The Sessions': John Hawkes, Helen Hunt Embrace Movie That Is 'Sex Positive'
'The Sessions': John Hawkes, Helen Hunt Embrace Movie That Is 'Sex Positive'
The premise of writer-director Ben Lewin's "The Sessions" is not a terribly promising one for a movie: a 36-year-old writer who was afflicted with polio as a child and who has to spend as many as 20 hours a day in an iron lung, decides he wants to lose his virginity, and enlists the aid of his parish priest and a sex surrogate to do the deed.
But the Polish-born Lewin, who is himself a polio survivor, has taken the tricky premise and somehow turned it into a funny, endearing little film that won audience and jury awards at Sundance and was immediately picked up by Fox Searchlight, which will release it on Friday.
The film is based on the true story of Mark O'Brien, who died in 1999. Lewin enlisted the aid of both Cheryl Cohen Greene, the sex surrogate who helped him, and Susan Fernbach, O'Brien's girlfriend during the last years of his life.
A main reason the film works as well as it does is the acting, particularly the performances by John Hawkes as O'Brien and Helen Hunt as Greene. (William H. Macy also steals a few scenes as the priest, and the supporting cast is studded with able performances from disabled actors.)
Hawkes, who is coming off back-to-back award-winning performances in "Winter's Bone" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," spends the film contorted and helpless, restricted to a limited amount of movement in his head alone; Hunt, whose best-known film role was her Oscar-winning turn in "As Good As It Gets" 15 years ago, spends a good portion of the film in full-frontal nudity during sex scenes that are often tender, occasionally sad and usually funny.
Hawkes and Hunt spoke to TheWrap about various aspects of the film, the real people they're playing, and all that sex.
John Hawkes: Humor was part of the appeal. It was a really interesting story, it was well-written, and the character was fascinating to me because of his humor.
When someone is ill-equipped to accomplish their goal, and they continue to battle without wallowing in self pity even though they have reason to do so, that's interesting and appealing. There's honor in that somehow, and something really human about it that strikes me.
Helen Hunt: A girlfriend of mine who never once in 30 years of friendship said "You should read this script" called and said, "You should read this script." And literally at the same moment my agent called and said, "You should read this script." So I did.
I loved it, and I met with Ben. You need to feel in good hands with a movie like this, and I didn't know that for sure. But I knew he wasn't creepy because I had lunch with him, and I met his family, and they were all lovely. And I knew that he was very well spoken and had an interesting take on this, and I knew he wrote something really good. That's more than you usually get.
The physical challenges:
Hawkes: I wasn't so concerned with playing the lead in a film with only 90-degree movement of my head. That was a little daunting, but the character was well drawn.