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John Hawkes is so good in The Sessions that one wonders why he's not up there with Helen Hunt vying for Oscar....
Fox / 95 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: February 12, 2013
The next couple weeks are typically the prim-o time to moan and bitch about Oscar snubs – you know, what might have been and who shoulda been a contender – and experiencing Ben Lewin’s The Sessions on Blu-ray definitely flames those fires. Holly Hunter received a nomination for her performance in the movie, which is completely deserved, but the idea that John Hawkes’ name is not next to Daniel Day-Lewis’ in the Best Actor category this time around is a full-blown shame.
Hawkes has been a totally reliable performer for years now – he previously vied for Oscar gold with Winter’s Bone – and his presence on screen here as a man crippled by polio and living in an iron lung is downright transformative. The guy digs so deep into his part that one doesn’t just feel compassion for his plight: we peer into his very soul. It’s a daring, revealing, and exhilarating endeavor. Nice work, Oscar voters.
The Sessions– the vehicle of Hunt’s and Hawkes’ magnificent performances – chronicles a section of the life of Mark O’Brien, a poet in the Bay Area of the early 1990s who, as we soon learn, has been in the vice grips of polio for decades. He decides, in his late thirties, that he’s tired of being the only virgin in the neighborhood, and he hires a ‘sex surrogate’ (that’s Hunt) to usher him into the world of carnal experience. She first tutors him with what can really only be described as masturbatory homework, eventually leading up to a main event that changes O’Brien’s life forever.
The Sessionsis a fine film, a brave one that makes up for its lack of comprehensive narrative structure with a vivid encapsulation of performing vitality. Lewin knows that his cast are the MVPs of this picture, and he lets them finesse their craft under a steady yet distant authorial hand. Perhaps if the director dug a little deeper into the psyche of his story, The Sessions might pack a more fervent punch, but on this BD edition, it nevertheless stands as a testament to actors really bringing their characters to life. I hope Day-Lewis mentions Hawkes when he wins next weekend.