|London Film Festival Review: The Sessions|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:05|
Director: Ben Lewin
Can a bloke with no movement in 90% of his body have sex? That’s the question haunting Mark (Hawkes), a man who can only spend a few hours outside of a giant iron long in his bedroom – or what would be his bedroom, if he had any need for a bed. And so he hires Cheryl (Hunt), a sex therapist to help him learn how to... be intimate. It's a struggle, in more ways than one, but Ben Lewin's film eventually gets the juices flowing,
From the start, it's obvious that this is John Hawkes' show. Self-deprecating and funny, he moves from Oscar-nominated supporting role to leading man just by moving his head. "The money's on the table," he squeaks awkwardly as Hunt's therapist begins a session. Then, after getting to third base, his priest (an excellent William H Macy) asks how he feels. "Cleansed and victorious!" comes the reply. It's a textbook demonstration of comic timing.
But Ben Lewin's film falls down when it tries to do the serious stuff. Inevitably, Cheryl and Mark develop feelings for each other. That, in itself, isn't the problem; it's the way it's done. Struggling to flesh out its characters, The Sessions resorts to monologues to voice their inner motivations. It's a fine trick used occasionally - especially with an inactive lead - but once you've seen it done three or four times, the effect wears thin.
Hunt, the therapist, speaks her wishes into a dictaphone. Hawkes vents his desires at church, overheard by increasingly shocked members of the congregation. And then, at home, he does it in voiceover as he writes poems and letters - and, in one standalone scene, talks to his cat.
What we end up with is a patchwork of individual 10-second speeches rather than a flowing story; compared to last month's Untouchable, which added depth to its story through interaction, it's a far flimsier film. The really silly thing is that the cast don't need it: when they're together, Hawkes and Hunt spark off each other naturally. And thanks to their two performances - John Hawkes may appear in the same sentence as Oscar again very soon - The Sessions finally achieves full dramatic intercourse. Yes, the script almost kills the mood, but it gets it up in the end.