So, this is a film about a disabled guy getting laid. Well, yes and no.
Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes – Martha Marcy May Marlene and Winter’s Bone) is a journalist and poet living in 80s California, who suffers such muscle weakness after childhood polio that he spends most of his life at home on a gurney inside an iron lung. There’s just something that he wants and he feels is still within his reach – to lose his virginity and experience sex with a woman before he dies.
After getting “a free pass” from his kindly and hip Catholic priest (William H Macy), O’Brien is unsuccessful in conventional romantic approaches. The next step is to find a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to give him the experience he desires, breaking through his virginal anxiety with none of the romantic hang ups. But in Hollywoodland, you can’t have sex without love, right?
There’s something to be said for the strength of personality trumping physical attributes in the game of attraction, and The Sessions looks opaquely at the places where sex and love overlap. But, Ben Lewin directs in such broad brushstrokes that it’s not clear if he wants us to look at disability and sex, or the larger dating game that we all play. There are suggestions of both and it’s not clear what conclusion he wants us to take from this film.