User Score
7.6

Generally favorable reviews- based on 72 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 68 out of 72
  2. Negative: 1 out of 72
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  1. Jan 7, 2013
    6
    This review contains spoilers, click expand 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.
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  2. BKM
    Mar 16, 2013
    6
    The Sessions is a film that is easy to watch and to like and John Hawkes continues to remind everyone of just how versatile and gifted an actor he is. But while I was pleasantly distracted during the film's tidy 1 1/2 hour running time, I never really felt emotionally invested in any of the characters and when the credits rolled I never had any real reaction to anything that I had just seen.
  3. Feb 22, 2013
    6
    The Sessions is a curious and peculiar film; it is very different from what I have seen before, despite other movies about disabled people with the typical argument of death or euthanasia. The thing is that the idea of a quadriplegic man who wants to lose his virginity is very promising and it is perfectly well used, every dialogue or picture has a meaning and leads to such anThe Sessions is a curious and peculiar film; it is very different from what I have seen before, despite other movies about disabled people with the typical argument of death or euthanasia. The thing is that the idea of a quadriplegic man who wants to lose his virginity is very promising and it is perfectly well used, every dialogue or picture has a meaning and leads to such an unpredictable outcome. The situation that shows this film is basically a man trying to live a common life, hopping to fit in the society, making himself proud of what he has accomplish; it is not only about learning how to have sex, but also to have a partner and to be seen with her, to have friends, to be treated as an equal, to be loved. All these things that he wants to another person may be normal and would never questioned it, but he feels afraid of that, thinking that he does not deserve it and it is a punishment of God. In conclusion what The Sessions talk about is to cherish the little things that life brings to us. The script is very clever and the performances are great, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt especially Expand
  4. Apr 5, 2013
    6
    I found the movie to be tedious. My wife liked it, so my 6 rating is a weak one the film was a 5 for me. Like many who rated this as a quality film, I was unmoved by the premise.
  5. Feb 26, 2013
    4
    A Dramedy based entirely around a middle aged man attempting to have sex for the first time. The twist, he spends most of his time in an iron lung because he contracted Polio in his youth. It's a picture that grips from moment to moment but leaves you empty on finishing. Mark O'Brian (John Hawkes) has been lying on his back for almost his entire life. He decides to visit a sex therapist toA Dramedy based entirely around a middle aged man attempting to have sex for the first time. The twist, he spends most of his time in an iron lung because he contracted Polio in his youth. It's a picture that grips from moment to moment but leaves you empty on finishing. Mark O'Brian (John Hawkes) has been lying on his back for almost his entire life. He decides to visit a sex therapist to finally lose his virginity. However he is only allowed a limited number of sessions (suddenly that titles starting to make a whole load of sense now) and he really doesn't want this journey to end. Mercifully it does. The Sessons does despite my disappointment have several excellent qualities and almost all of them are the performances. The casting is excellent for the most part with ace performances from Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H Macy. In this regard the film succeeds as these characters and their interactions with one another feel real and engrossing. However the scenes are let down by a script that isn't really up to the quality of the acting as it not only treats the viewer like an indiot, repeating things over and over as if we didn't get it the first time but its also that the dialogue is so incredibly stiff and lifeless as if written without cognitive thought. Another problem lies in connecting these scenes together, something the film fails at spectacularly as it does it through the characters of Marks many carers who I found myself caring very little about. In fact the only real casting problem is Moon Bloodgood who is either horribly miscast or woefully bad, I just haven't decided which yet. The scenes in between sessions are dull, uninvolving and most of all frustrating as they feel motionless. In fact these scenes stop what little pace or flow the film has while having absolutely nothing of value to say. Overall the sessions is more disappointing than terrible but its on the boundary between the two at best and what keeps it from tipping over is the bold performances which are worthy of a much better film. Expand
  6. 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 TheThe 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... Expand
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: Peter Bradshaw
    Jan 21, 2013
    60
    The Sessions can be sugary, but it's likable.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.