At the Movies: “The Sessions”

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About a week ago, my friends and I decided to get rid of our Saturday night blues and head out to go see a movie. While a few of them went to go see “Argo”, my friend Tyara and I decided to head on over to Theater 11 to check out a movie called “The Sessions.”

I had wanted to check this movie out for quite some time and decided that tonight was going to be the night. So, we brought our overly expensive bags of popcorn and fountain drinks in and settled down for the next hour and 38 minutes.

“The Sessions”, directed by Ben Lewin, is based off an essay written by Mark O’Brien, a journalist and poet who was paralyzed from the neck down due to a childhood bout with polio. He had spent most of his life breathing with the help of an iron lung and portable respirator.

The essay, entitled “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate”, talks about O’Brien’s experience with losing his virginity to Cheryl, the sex surrogate, and his emotions before and after the couple of sessions that they have together.

This movie earned quite a bit of buzz: when it premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic) and a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. Due to the fact that it won a few awards, I was prepared to be blown away. After seeing “The Sessions,” I honestly can’t say that I was.

The movie started off nicely, with an actual film clip of the real Mark O’Brien operating his gurney around the campus of UC Berkley, which he would become a graduate of. It was really just a nice shot of O’Brien as he used his portable respirator as he worked his way to his next class of the day.

The movie kind of plays along with that sort of theme: Mark O’Brien is the guy that you stop to say hello to in the halls or invite to get a cup of coffee on the way to science class. You never truly get to connect with him.

The movie does show a bit of vulnerability: there are scenes where your heart kind of breaks, but not because of the reasons that you may think of. There are scenes where O’Brien’s feelings of romantic interest get shot down and you start to feel a bit sad, maybe because you may have personally been rejected at one point in your life, but also because you have to watch it repeat itself in front of you on the big screen as well.

Either way, those kinds of scenes don’t leave you jumping for joy, but they also don’t leave you crying into your popcorn either.

There is also a lot of humor throughout the movie as well. With O’Brien’s conversations with Father Brendan, you receive a bit of schoolboy humor, which was a nice touch to some parts in the movie.

You also feel the same sense of comic relief with the other characters, namely Vera, O’Brien’s assistant. In fact, Vera delivers some of the best lines throughout the movie. My favorite part of hers is when she describes the first time that she has ever had sex to O’Brien.

All in all, I did enjoy “The Sessions”. I laughed in all the right places; I felt tiny bits of sadness as well. However, I didn’t feel like I connected with O’Brien as well as I wanted to, which left me feeling letdown, especially after reading the wonderful reviews that the movie had received.

Would I go see it again? I can’t say that I would. But even though I didn’t completely love the movie, I am glad that I got to witness the painful, hilarious embarrassment that results in the planning of losing your virginity and the tremulous, heartfelt experience that comes afterwards.