Playing a disabled character has become clichéd as a path to an Oscar nomination. Jon Voight won best actor for Coming Home (1978) as a war vet confined to a wheelchair, as did Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man (1988) portraying an autistic man gifted in math, and Geoffrey Rush as a mentally troubled pianist in Shine (1996). Good films and performances, but as we saw Ben Stiller's character parodied in Tropic Thunder (2008), disability is one of the easiest "challenging" portrayals to buck for acclaim. Fox Searchlight Pictures has brought to theaters Ben Lewin’s romantic comedy of a paraplegic discovering love and sex.
After 30 years of living in an iron lung and stretcher as a result of childhood polio, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) decides he wants to lose his virginity after believing the love of his life left him because of his disabilities. With the help of his daily assistant, Vera (Moon Bloodgood), and an understanding priest (William H. Macy), Mark calls upon a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to aid him in learning the art of making love.
While The Sessions is a charming feature about two misunderstood people, it doesn’t exactly scream "Oscar bait," either. It is sentimental but not corny; sexual, but not crude. Hawkes, on a roll since his Academy award-nominated role in Winter’s Bone (2010), Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and Lincoln (2012), takes a more lighthearted route portraying real-life Mark warmly on screen. The film also serves as a tiny comeback for Hunt, who has been MIA since 2006’s Bobby, and even with a wacky Salem accent, it’s nice to see her on film again.