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Ten Word or Less Review – The 40-Year Old Virgin, in an iron lung

The Sessions, a delightful, amusing and touchingly sad movie experience, stars John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) as Mark O’Brien, a man unable to move his body since he contracted polio as a child.  Despite his inability to move he’s graduated college and become a poet.  What Mark hasn’t done at his unspecified but advanced age is had sex.  Tasked with writing a magazine article about the sex lives of the handicapped, Mark embarks on an odd journey to overcome his physical and mental issues about the oldest human need.  He first consults his priest (William H. Macy) looking for spiritual guidance, God’s gonna give him a go, and then makes an appointment through his therapist with a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt.  Their goal?  Get Mark in a place where he’s confident enough and emotionally ready to be with a member of the opposite sex.  How to get there?  They have to practice having sex.

John Hawkes has been hanging around movie backgrounds for decades now.  Such glorious moments in his career include being shot in the face by George Clooney while on fire in From Dusk Till Dawn and being splattered by a passing semi-tractor trailer in Miami Vice.  Years of toiling for the actor finally paid off with an acclaimed, Oscar nominated turn in the indie hit Winters Bone and now Hawkes gets the privilege to carry this small drama.  Contorting his body into a frozen sculpture, Hawkes is completely convincing with his transformation into paralysis.  But Mark is more than a frozen body passing his time in an iron lung.  He’s deeply religious and much of his conflict about sex comes from his devout faith.  He’s also incredibly funny.  Hawkes gives Mark a witty, self-deprecating sense of humor which lightens the mood to no end.  While most actors reach for great depth through tears and motion, Hawkes achieves though facial gesture and a pure sense of empathy.

Hawkes is admirably backed by AWOL movie star Helen Hunt.  The one time marquee actress quickly slipped away into obscurity at century’s turn and has only acted occasionally over the past 12 years.  Approaching 50, Hunt effortlessly embraces a difficult part which requires an enormous amount of nudity on her behalf.  Way to go Helen.  Bashfulness is for scardy cat actresses afraid of seeing theirs boobs on the internet.  Also appearing to remind us how easily he can win over a viewer is William H. Macy as Mark’s priest.  He listens to Mark’s moral quagmires, begrudgingly at first, then with the most amusing look of forelorness.  It’s a small role to be sure but a testament to the ability of a great actor to instill great depth into small moments.

In a sea of award season hoopla, bombastic ad campaigns for ‘important movies’ and billions of dollars being spent on ginormous event flicks, a small achievement like The Sessions is easy to slip away unnoticed but it shouldn’t be skipped.  After you watch James Bond globe trot effortlessly, all while driving a motorcycle onto a train which then crashes into everything and explodes your eyeballs, consider the small tale of a virgin who can’t move.


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