Helen Hunt and John Hawkes put their inhibitions to rest in The Sessions.
In a challenging role that's sure to get awards attention, John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene) plays real-life poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who because of childhood polio spends most of his life in an iron lung or on a gurney.
The film recounts his attempts in his late 30s to lose his virginity with a no-nonsense sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt). The fact that he's Catholic, and relates his experiences to his priest (William H. Macy), adds another fascinating element.
Director Ben Lewin sometimes struggles to find the right tone, but the story unfolds elegantly, and he's helped by a magnificent cast. Acting entirely with his head, Hawkes, his voice breathy and pitched high, finds a huge range of subtle emotion, and Hunt invests her character with depth and compassion even as she's struggling with her own conflicted feelings.