Review: Sessions—laugh, cry (and it’s also the truth)

SUZY FARBMAN is the author of the newly released God Signs: Health, Hope and Miracles, My Journey to Recovery, one of the main books featured in our new WeAreCaregivers website. She reviewed the new film starrring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.

The Sessions


I love a movie that makes me laugh and cry. The Sessions does both. I especially love a movie that makes me laugh and cry and is based on a true story.

The basic plot sounds off-putting: Mark O ‘Brien (John Hawkes) is a man in his late thirties who survived polio in childhood but spends most of his life in an iron lung. His muscles below his neck don’t work. A poet and journalist, Mark receives an assignment to write about sex among the disabled. He decides to try sex for the first time. Mark may be seriously disabled, but he is no victim.

A devout Catholic, Mark meets the new priest of his church, Father Brendan (William H. Macy) and asks his advice. The priest advises that sex is reserved for married people. Mark protests that he has tried but been unable to find a woman to marry him. In one of many moments that made me chuckle and reach for the paper napkin accompanying my popcorn, the priest studies the wooden crucifix hanging above them, then says, “I think He will cut you a pass on this one.”

Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is a sexual surrogate who works with disabled people. She is comfortable with nudity and manages to bring charm and dignity to her work. She teaches Mark what he ‘s capable of—physically and emotionally.

I have loved Helen Hunt since she played the irreverent waitress to Jack Nicholson’s self-centered novelist in As Good As It Gets, the 1997 movie that won her an Oscar. I have loved William H. Macy after seeing him as Bill Porter, an irrepressible salesman with cerebral palsy in the 2002 film, Door To Door. John Hawkes is new to me but shows all the insecurity, humor and courage of the real life Mark O’Brien.

Two of the female characters played in the film are listed among the credits, which may help explain the authentic ring of this sensitive, touching and insightful film. The Sessions won the Audience Award at Sundance. See it. And see why.

Review by author Suzy Farbman

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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