Metascore
79

Generally favorable reviews - based on 39 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 36 out of 39
  2. Negative: 0 out of 39
  1. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Nov 16, 2012
    100
    The result is a human drama that quietly argues that the gift of life isn't one to be taken lightly.
  2. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 14, 2012
    100
    The Sessions is often brazenly funny, not from shocking dialogue but characters speaking and reacting the way real people do, especially with such a flustering subject as sex.
  3. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Oct 19, 2012
    100
    The very sex-positive The Sessions treats intimacy with an explicitness and honesty that's very rare in movies. It may be the first film that doesn't turn premature ejaculation into a punch line.
  4. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Oct 16, 2012
    100
    The Sessions is fascinating, informative, engaging and heartbreaking stuff. Its easygoing, matter-of-fact tone makes it subtle and rewarding, not weird. Roses all around to all and sundry for one of the year's most captivating films.
  5. Reviewed by: Marc Mohan
    Nov 1, 2012
    91
    John Hawkes has, until now, been known primarily as the skilled character actor who brought an earthy authenticity to roles on TV's "Deadwood" and the Oscar-nominated "Winter's Bone." With The Sessions, he makes his mark as a bona fide member of screen acting's elite. And he does it while barely moving a muscle.
  6. Reviewed by: Nathan Rabin
    Oct 13, 2012
    91
    It might just be the most poignant, moving film ever made about one man's surprisingly noble efforts to get laid.
  7. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    Oct 13, 2012
    90
    A film of tenderness and humor married to the unlikeliest of subjects.
  8. Reviewed by: Ann Hornaday
    Oct 26, 2012
    88
    Thanks to Lewin's light but assured touch, The Sessions never wears its theological preoccupations heavily, instead allowing transcendence to creep up on the audience quietly.
  9. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Oct 25, 2012
    88
    John Hawkes is wonderful as O'Brien, as is Helen Hunt as the surrogate whose sessions with O'Brien form the crux of the film. The results are extremely moving and, in general, low on egregiously yanked heartstrings or the usual biopic filler.
  10. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Oct 25, 2012
    88
    The achievement of this simply told, exceptionally fine film is the clarity with which it portrays the drama of a good soul in an inert body.
  11. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Oct 24, 2012
    88
    Mark is played by John Hawkes, who has emerged in recent years as an actor of amazing versatility. What he does here is not only physically challenging, but requires timing and emotion to elevate the story into realms of deep feeling and, astonishingly, even comedy.
  12. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Oct 18, 2012
    88
    Just see it. This movie will take a piece out of you.
  13. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Oct 19, 2012
    83
    Although stylistically and conceptually it never lifts itself entirely out of the realm of a made-for-television drama – don't expect "My Left Foot" – The Sessions is bracing. It's also one of the few movies to recognize that people with severe physical disabilities have sexual lives, too.
  14. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Oct 18, 2012
    83
    Baring all and radiating an affability that defines the movie's tone, Hunt delivers her finest performance since "As Good As It Gets."
  15. Reviewed by: Lisa Schwarzbaum
    Oct 17, 2012
    83
    The Sessions is first and foremost about Hawkes' virtuoso performance, one of those "My Left Foot"-y transformations that make audiences verklemmt and generate awards talk.
  16. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Oct 19, 2012
    80
    This frank, funny, tender film both asks and receives more from its sex scenes than any movie I've seen in a long time.
  17. Reviewed by: Betsy Sharkey
    Oct 18, 2012
    80
    In a country that embraces cinematic violence with such ease but blushingly prefers to keep sex in the shadows or under the sheets, the grown-up approach of The Sessions is rare.
  18. Reviewed by: Stephen Holden
    Oct 18, 2012
    80
    The Sessions is a pleasant shock: a touching, profoundly sex-positive film that equates sex with intimacy, tenderness and emotional connection instead of performance, competition and conquest.
  19. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    Oct 18, 2012
    80
    For once in an American movie, the uplift feels earned.
  20. Reviewed by: Ellen E. Jones
    Oct 17, 2012
    80
    Aided by committed, awards-ready performance, The Sessions transforms 'taboo' subject matter into a humorous, humane and uncomplicated pleasure.
  21. Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
    Oct 17, 2012
    80
    Hawkes and Hunt nobly tackle the physical demands their roles require.
  22. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Oct 16, 2012
    80
    The real heat of The Sessions comes from its pitch-perfect sense of place, the free-spirited Berkeley of the 1980s.
  23. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Oct 13, 2012
    80
    At once entirely frank and downright cuddly in the way it deals with the seldom-visited subject of the sex lives of people with disabilities, this well-acted and constructed film will, at the very least, turn the spotlight on this unusual topic.
  24. Reviewed by: Ray Greene
    Oct 13, 2012
    80
    The emotional journey is articulated with so much nuance, and such a vigorous belief in human possibility, that everything The Surrogate touches becomes its own, and is made new.
  25. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Nov 1, 2012
    75
    Few mainstream movies, let alone disability dramas, are so frank about sexual mechanics, yet notwithstanding the nudity, The Sessions isn't voyeuristic or sleazy.
  26. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Nov 1, 2012
    75
    Although the majority of the movie focuses on the interaction between Mark and Cheryl, there is a third character in the mix. Catholic priest Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy, belongs to a liberal wing of the Church found only in movies.
  27. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Oct 25, 2012
    75
    For all that The Sessions does well, it offers some telling deviations from the real story.
  28. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Oct 25, 2012
    75
    The Sessions is moving. At times, it's even erotic, which is unexpected, to say the least. It sends viewers out of the theater with a heightened sense of the physical and a real feeling for all the things that sex means in human life.
  29. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Oct 25, 2012
    75
    Hunt gives this funny, touching movie its soul, and the actors elevate the material into something more resonant and memorable than the story promises.
  30. Reviewed by: James Rocchi
    Oct 20, 2012
    75
    Two things make The Sessions stand out. One is the level of acting...The other is that, while we all know sex is more than boobs and bits and butts, it also does include those things, and The Sessions does not hide behind euphemism or gentle cutaways, montages or misty light.
  31. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Oct 18, 2012
    75
    A moving tale with wryly funny moments.
  32. Reviewed by: R. Kurt Osenlund
    Oct 17, 2012
    75
    It's the rare film to sell sex as something truly tender and life-affirming, and Helen Hunt, in particular, is lovely and poignant.
  33. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Nov 6, 2012
    70
    There is a sad sweetness to the whole affair, for lack of a better term. Or maybe it's a sweet sadness. But O'Brien's outlook on life (he thinks his use-by date may be approaching), and Hawkes' portrayal of it, elevates the film beyond what's on the page, making what's on the screen a lot more satisfying.
  34. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Oct 20, 2012
    70
    The Sessions should be taken for what it is, a sweet but minor fictional parable about the strange possibilities of love. You may find it significant, moving and even profound, but it has a limited connection to the real world and the real life of Mark O'Brien.
  35. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Oct 18, 2012
    70
    The Sessions is admirable, and often enjoyable, yet self-limiting in concept. It's exactly about what it sets out to be about - no less but no more.
  36. 70
    The briskness of The Sessions works against it: It lacks the fullness of the best films of its ilk, chief among them Jim Sheridan's "My Left Foot." But Lewin lets his eye wander pleasingly.
  37. Reviewed by: Peter Bradshaw
    Jan 21, 2013
    60
    The Sessions can be sugary, but it's likable.
  38. Reviewed by: Angie Errigo
    Jan 15, 2013
    60
    Formulaic but uplifting, positive and accessible. Fairly graphic sex is handled as tastefully as one is ever likely to see in a crowdpleaser.
  39. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Oct 18, 2012
    60
    It's strange to call a film with so much nudity and simulated sex "old-fashioned," but The Sessions nicely bridges that gulf.
User Score
7.7

Generally favorable reviews- based on 68 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 27
  2. Negative: 1 out of 27
  1. Aug 8, 2013
    4
    The sessions is a sad moving film about a disabled men who wants to lose his virginity. It also has good actors but that's all in that film. It is boring and it really reminded me of porn with a disabled men. It is based on true story but I can't believe that there are people who get paid to have sex with disabled people? I was really disappointed as I expected a masterpiece but The Sessions is not something great in particular and the actress didn't deserve her nomination for an Oscar as she didn't do pretty much anything. She just cried in two scenes. A great disappointment... Full Review »
  2. Jan 7, 2013
    6
    This review contains spoilers, click full review link to view. Mark O'Brien never figured out how to be lovable. Sentenced to live and die in an iron lung after contacting polio as a child, the poet/journalist, weighing sixty pounds when Jessica Yu filmed her documentary short Breathing Lessons, was, as a matter of fact, a grotesquerie. Had this physically compromised man found romantic love with a normal woman in real life, it would have indeed been stranger than fiction. Cheryl Ward, the sex surrogate who worked with Mark, did not retrieve a love poem from the garbage can; did not leave an envelope of money lying on the dashboard
    because she felt like a cheap hooker being compensated for services rendered; did not fall for her client. The Sessions is a lie, bolstering the myth that, in O'Briens own words: "If you become disabled, you can overcome it by working hard." The Sessions doesn't prepare you for the sight of Mark's gaunt, abstract body, a spectacle that would have landed him in the freak shows of yore, not in somebody's boudoir. In order for an audience to believe that Cheryl could develop a romantic bond with Mark, his physique had to fall on the right side of repulsion. If O'Brien's body was accurately depicted, the women in the writer's life would seem like kinky fetishists with a thing for acute disfigurement. An audience, therefore, wouldn't buy the coda, where his female admirers cry at the funeral. As played by John Hawkes, the author of the article "On Seeking a Sex Surrogate" has some sex appeal, some charm, whereas his real-life counterpart was intrinsically bereft of neither. Throughout both films, we hear excerpts from O'Brien's poetry, and in a love poem to an aide, Mark's wish, expressed in the doc, that Amanda would "talk to me as a human instead of her savagely crippled employer" gets fulfilled in the biopic through contrived scenes where the coed integrates Mark into the world of the able-bodied, like when they laze together at a student picnic, making him feel like a man. Full of p*ss and vinegar, he declares his love for Amanda at the boutique, a declaration that goes unreciprocated. O'Brien, in Breathing Lessons, we find out, is harder to love; that Hawkes is playing an idealized version of the man in the iron lung. His counterpart was not fearless, was not a saint. On the subject of love, in regard to his poem about Amanda, he says, "I would kill this poem and tell her how much I love her." John Merrick wouldn't make such pronouncements in real life, and neither did Mark. The filmmaker ennobles him with an unbeknowing bravery. Breathing Lessons shows O'Brien as he really was, warts and all. The poet had hired a sex surrogate because he was angry at all women for not loving him. Mark wanted control, the same locus of power he held over his professional-minded caretakers. Sexual intercourse would be his revenge. Mark could have fired Cheryl, hurting the quasi-prostitute before she hurt him, like so many women before her. But in The Sessions, an audience will be hard-pressed to detect a misogynistic bone in Mark's body, going so far as asking permission from a priest before Cheryl guides him through the nuts and bolts of physical love. When Amanda reappears in the film, taking over the reins of Mark's gurney from Vera, her successor, en route to a public park, he tells his first love, "It could have been you, but it wasn't," causing the girl to weep, as if she regretted the choice to pass on Mark's overture. In this sense, the filmmaker takes the "opposites attract" trope popular in love stories to the edge. After all, for most, if not all women, an iron lung would be an absolute deal breaker when choosing a suitor. Mark is outfitted with the power of manipulation; he knows his words can maim, and yet, he disingenuously bemoans to Vera that Amanda "didn't show the slightest bit of jealousy." The sex makes him smarmy. To break a woman's heart, it's what Mark O'Brien probably dreamt of the most, second only to achieving full penetration. He gets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly treatment; he's patterned after Jean Dominique Bauby, the one-time editor of Elle magazine, since Bauby too is still desired, even though he's paralyzed from head-to-toe. In a game of intertextual one-upmanship, O'Brien wins. Whereas Mark was able to reach a state of tumescence, Bauby could no longer do so after his stroke. Interminably flaccid, Bauby goes through the motions of the playboy's former lothario-self, leering at the ladies and their respective erogenous zones from his one good eye. The p*nis, no longer a weapon, Bauby now employs letters, one eyeblink at a time, to form words, annihilating his wife, when he forces her to translate an intimate message to his mistress. When Cheryl informs her client about all the men who "would give anything to have a natural erection," she could be talking about Bauby, who like Mark, due to unforeseen circumstances, satiates himself by writing his brains out.
    Full Review »
  3. Dec 20, 2012
    10
    If you are avoiding this movie because it's about a man in an iron lung and a sex therapist, don't. It has everything--humor, intelligence, and universality. The writing has not one false note. And if I ever see a performance as superb as Helen Hunt's, it will probably be given by Helen Hunt. Full Review »