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. Nov 18, 2012
    10
    John Hawkes plays a man in his late thirties who's lived most of his life in an iron lung. When he decides to explore sex, he seeks guidance from his priest (William H. Macy) and a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt). Despite how it might sound, there's nothing unseemly or pitiable about this film. It's a sweet charmer with an upbeat disposition. Although he can only use his head, Hawkes createsJohn Hawkes plays a man in his late thirties who's lived most of his life in an iron lung. When he decides to explore sex, he seeks guidance from his priest (William H. Macy) and a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt). Despite how it might sound, there's nothing unseemly or pitiable about this film. It's a sweet charmer with an upbeat disposition. Although he can only use his head, Hawkes creates a compelling character and all of the supporting case turn in captivating performances. Even in the most awkward moments, the humor and buoyant mood make this an uplifting and enchanting experience. Expand
  2. Oct 19, 2012
    10
    The Sessions, starring John Hawkes (Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Helen Hunt, is probably the best film I've seen so far this year. Originally titled The Surrogate when it played at the Sundance Film Festival in January and took home a couple of awards, Hawkes plays real-life writer Mark O'Brien, who was confined to a gurney or iron lung for most of his life due to polio.The Sessions, starring John Hawkes (Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Helen Hunt, is probably the best film I've seen so far this year. Originally titled The Surrogate when it played at the Sundance Film Festival in January and took home a couple of awards, Hawkes plays real-life writer Mark O'Brien, who was confined to a gurney or iron lung for most of his life due to polio. The plot is fairly straightforward: the combination of a lifetime mostly devoid of any intimacy and an upcoming writing job on the sex lives of the disabled leads the 38-year-old O'Brien to hire a sex surrogate named Cheryl (played by Hunt) to help him lose his virginity, with guidance coming from his local priest (played by William H. Macy).

    Hawkes is a revelation, delivering a graceful and affecting performance with essentially no physicality, as he spends the entire film flat on his back and relying almost entirely on his facial performance and voice, which he affects with a slightly nasally tone. Based on his work here, I believe I'll have to go back and revisit the Oscar-nominated performance he gave in Winter's Bone, a film that bored me so much that I bailed out of it about three quarters of the way through. His Mark character is a warm, wickedly funny charmer that will quickly win viewers over (and not out of sympathy for his disability). Occasional voice-overs where Hawkes reads selections of O'Brien's poetry (it's not remotely as painful as it might sound) nicely provide some thoughtful extra insight into his worldview, mostly involving the topic of love. The path leading up to his decision to hire the surrogate introduces us to Macy's fantastic Father Brendan character, who gives Mark his blessing and becomes a source of counsel, friendship, and laughs throughout the rest of the film. Mark also gets encouragement from his two caregivers, including one played in an excellent supporting performance from Moon Bloodgood. Hunt, who has appeared less onscreen in recent years to focus more on directing and theatre work, matches Hawkes' standout work step-for-step, instilling a dignity and compassion to Cheryl as she educates Mark in the ways of physical intimacy. Those teachings tastefully deconstruct the act of sex and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes along with it (she also bravely appears completely nude quite a few times). Slivers of Cheryl's home life with her son and husband (played by Adam Arkin) offer just enough of a look into her own growing conflict, which I won't spoil here. Director/writer Ben Lewin, a polio survivor himself, has crafted one of those rare knockout cinematic pieces of work that'll hit you about halfway through watching just how special it is. His efforts and a number of first-rate performances should easily succeed in winning your deep emotional investment in The Sessions, which treats a potentially fragile subject with an admirable maturity and a surprisingly pleasant amount of disarming humour.
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  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.
  4. Nov 1, 2012
    9
    An excellent film handled with respect and grace. If it weren't based on a true story, I might have wished for a bit more struggle on behalf of the Catholic Priest - something closer to that of the priest in Million Dollar Baby. Then again, killing someone (euthanasia) is much more serious in the Church's eyes than extra-marital sex. It just seemed a bit like William H. Macy's characterAn excellent film handled with respect and grace. If it weren't based on a true story, I might have wished for a bit more struggle on behalf of the Catholic Priest - something closer to that of the priest in Million Dollar Baby. Then again, killing someone (euthanasia) is much more serious in the Church's eyes than extra-marital sex. It just seemed a bit like William H. Macy's character went a bit beyond his role and became a bit too much of a rooting friend - can't see it happening in life. But aside from this, I just loved the film. Helen Hunt is fantastic, and Hawkes doesn't disappoint - he's still one of the most underrated and under-praised actors in the biz. Expand
  5. Jan 23, 2013
    9
    Biggest surprise of the year, seen it on a complete whim, and never expected it to be that good! Helen Hunt is amazing and doesn't fail to deliver a very believable performance. the film is written brilliantly, and comes across so real and honest, rather like your watching a documentary. John Hawkes has played this part beautifully and you really do believe this man severely disabled...Biggest surprise of the year, seen it on a complete whim, and never expected it to be that good! Helen Hunt is amazing and doesn't fail to deliver a very believable performance. the film is written brilliantly, and comes across so real and honest, rather like your watching a documentary. John Hawkes has played this part beautifully and you really do believe this man severely disabled... But, I think this part was written for Sean Penn and the only slight downside to this is John Hawkes does look and sound and act like Penn and it feels he was chosen for his likeness to Penn rather than his talent. The Sessions feels like it wont achieve anything, but after the first 30 minutes it really grips you. All in all a great story made into an even greater film. Expand
  6. Dec 11, 2012
    9
    When this film started for the first half an hour I was thinking how overrated it was and that I wasn't going to like it. Then Helen Hunt entered the picture. To say her character and performance elevated proceedings is an understement. In an extremely brave turn as the sex therapist helping John Hawkes' (Good) polio afflicted and iron lung bound writer she is riveting. I will say here andWhen this film started for the first half an hour I was thinking how overrated it was and that I wasn't going to like it. Then Helen Hunt entered the picture. To say her character and performance elevated proceedings is an understement. In an extremely brave turn as the sex therapist helping John Hawkes' (Good) polio afflicted and iron lung bound writer she is riveting. I will say here and now that i always begrudged her that oscar win for 'As Good As it Gets' and have never been a fan, but here she won me over with a compassionate and tender performance. In one scene, that had me a blubbering wreck, she breaks your heart. The film does improve on her arrival in it and goes onwards and upwards to an emotional climax. William H Macy adds some humour as the priest offering very flexible guidance, but the reason I enjoyed this film so much is purely and simply down to Miss Hunt. I no longer begrudge her that oscar, It just should have been given for this performance. Expand
  7. Apr 14, 2013
    9
    How John Hawkes didn't get nominated for best actor I don't know. The Sessions is everything you want in a movie. The acting is superb with a sense of great emotions from tears to laughter.
  8. Dec 28, 2012
    8
    The Sessions" is not an easy film to either watch or review. If education and insight into the plight of the severely disabled is a worthy and constructive endeavor, then this film certainly meets that goal. If, however, the aim of a film is to afford the viewer the opportunity to relax and simply enjoy or experience the life or lives of others without feeling uncomfortable, then, ofThe Sessions" is not an easy film to either watch or review. If education and insight into the plight of the severely disabled is a worthy and constructive endeavor, then this film certainly meets that goal. If, however, the aim of a film is to afford the viewer the opportunity to relax and simply enjoy or experience the life or lives of others without feeling uncomfortable, then, of course, this movie will not be to the viewer's liking. Although in the same genre as "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (about a quadrapalegic who cannot speak but only blink to communicate), this film is much more than that since its character can, through his wit and intelligence, speak and communicate his thoughts and, as one of the actors in the film tells her "healthy" mate, "He (the disabled subject) is more of a man than you". Based on the true story of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien and his desire, at age 38, to experience sex for the first time in his life, John Hawkes ((in the leading role) ably assisted by therapist Helen Hunt and priest William H. Macy, conveys to the audience the efforts by this prisoner in an iron lung to move forward despite his incarceration. Difficult at times to experience the film's message, for me at least, is that the power of the mind can meet and, yes, even overcome. the physical burdens, obstacles and pitfalls that the fates place in life's path. Mr. Hawkes' character plays the hand that life dealt him with charm, humor and intelligence and, to that end, he and the real life person he portrays is to be admired and respected. I give an 8.5 rating for not only its message but for the skilled and sensitive manner in which this most difficult subject is treated. Expand
  9. Jan 6, 2013
    8
    You cannot help but be moved by a motion picture like this one. Here is a man who has spent his life in an iron lung and cannot move, but still can sense when he is physically touched, and he faces each day with bravery and a sense of humor. Even though the story was predictable, the performances throughout elevate the movie to another level. John Hawkes is perfectly cast as Mark, andYou cannot help but be moved by a motion picture like this one. Here is a man who has spent his life in an iron lung and cannot move, but still can sense when he is physically touched, and he faces each day with bravery and a sense of humor. Even though the story was predictable, the performances throughout elevate the movie to another level. John Hawkes is perfectly cast as Mark, and Helen Hunt is superb as the sex therapist. The side story of the priest felt a little tacked on for me but it did add some additional humor. The movie is funnier than you think it's going to be because Mark has such a good sense of humor despite his condition. Definitely one of the better films of the year. Expand
  10. Apr 19, 2013
    8
    John Hawkes is the latest late bloomer of the coterie in Hollywood, thanks to the instant fame after WINTER’S BONE (2010, 8/10) and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011, 6/10), he finally landed a once-of-a-lifetime leading role (the closest chance he got in his past underrated career is Miranda July’s cuddly gem ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW 2005, 9/10), although merciless being shut down byJohn Hawkes is the latest late bloomer of the coterie in Hollywood, thanks to the instant fame after WINTER’S BONE (2010, 8/10) and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011, 6/10), he finally landed a once-of-a-lifetime leading role (the closest chance he got in his past underrated career is Miranda July’s cuddly gem ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW 2005, 9/10), although merciless being shut down by the academy members’ recognition albeit the wicked scheme of leading-lady-goes-supporting works again in favor of his co-star Hunt, sometimes the reality sucks, and the same could be empathized by the film’s protagonist Mark in the beginning, a paralyzed 38-year-old virgin seeks for his first full-fledged sexual intercourse with a sex surrogate Cheryl (Hunt) during six sessions (with a high-demanding mutual orgasm as the culmination).

    Adapted by a true story (I know it’s a cardboard statement since it is irrelevant to the viewers), this blithely-paced, well-intentioned indie film peddles its sex-centered gambit with intimate delicacy, the curiosity of peeping other people’s sex life is subliminally enticing (plus Hawkes and Hunt are graceful in their naked forms), what’s more is when the usual dominant role of male has been nailed to an almost inclusive immobility, the comical nuance is brimful, but director/writer Ben Lewin neither exploits the racy material, nor unseemly dishes out condescending sympathy to the disabled’s restrained inconvenience. Maybe it is a whitewashed version of the reality, but the perspective of the film is unflaggingly confined to be personal and accessible, Mark’s interaction with Cheryl has been meticulously acted through each session (while most of them ended with premature ejection), when sex is so pure and without any smutty context, it is a true communication of two good-hearted souls, their mutual affections are genuine. Every line and tiny gesture (in the case of Mark, it is his expressions) bespeaks a sense of authenticity from the two great thespians.

    Hawkes challenges Mathieu Amalric (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY 2007, 8/10) in the body paralyzed, mind knife-sharp mode of acting, also due to the frequent naked scene, he twists his body to expose itself to the resemble a distorted spine, great homework has been done even before embody the mind of his character. Hunt is great as well, I hold no grudge to her but the fact of the category fraud, on the contrary, it is comforting to see her to swagger in a belated comeback, she radiates with warmth and zest as a woman has an unorthodoxy job with a family behind, the plucky nude scenes aside, her part of involvement is equally sincere and subtly hinted, as we may refer as good as it gets”. William H. Macy undertakes a sidelined role as the priest-and-friend of Mark, episodically gives some conventional advice and support with his unconventional appearance which may be a far cry from anyone has a priesthood background.

    The film finishes with a farewell mass held for Mark, 3 women have entered his life and loved him in their own ways, an emblem of trinity fulfills his journey, and as a second-hand poet, his love letter may elicit a soul-touching sentimentality, but his iron-lung supported life has never been less meaningful than any of other healthy ones, the film, with no bombastic ambition, has done a practical job and sublimated its real-life fodder to a ruminating curio worth of introspection and high esteem. A fine piece of comedy offers more than expected.
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  11. Jun 14, 2013
    8
    Sensitive & tastefully done story about exploration in an area most of take for granted. Apparently based on the real life experience of a physically disabled person, with a keen & inquisitive mindset and a healthy appetite for life & it's simple pleasures. There are several moving scenes, although the film overall is not really outstanding. Still, it's a story well told & performedSensitive & tastefully done story about exploration in an area most of take for granted. Apparently based on the real life experience of a physically disabled person, with a keen & inquisitive mindset and a healthy appetite for life & it's simple pleasures. There are several moving scenes, although the film overall is not really outstanding. Still, it's a story well told & performed flawlessly by almost everyone in the cast. More than worth a look. Expand
  12. Sep 1, 2014
    8
    John Hawkes' brilliant performance moved me on every level. This is one touching tale that magnificently strikes at the heart. With simplistic direction and a noble screenplay, Helen Hunt returns to top-form.
  13. Mar 1, 2013
    8
    Very few movies can take sex, comedy, and disability without making it seem bizarre or off putting, but this film shows real people and emotion that is refreshing and heartwarming. All the performances were compelling.
  14. Jan 17, 2013
    8
    I expected the insipidly titled The Sessions to be one of two movies. Firstly, it could have been an indie darling. Dished up to the swooshing Sundance Film Festival and the annual Little Miss Sunshine-worshipping crowd as a brave (meaning that the two leads are unsympathetically filmed in their fleshy birthday suits), and treacly (meaning, well, treacly) look at relationships and theI expected the insipidly titled The Sessions to be one of two movies. Firstly, it could have been an indie darling. Dished up to the swooshing Sundance Film Festival and the annual Little Miss Sunshine-worshipping crowd as a brave (meaning that the two leads are unsympathetically filmed in their fleshy birthday suits), and treacly (meaning, well, treacly) look at relationships and the woeful public perception of disability.

    Secondly, it could have been a Judd Apatow movie. An overlong and ultimately unsuccessful exercise in balancing arcane screwball comedy about awkward sex, whilst still trying to say something prophetic about relationships and the woeful public perception of disability. Thankfully, The Sessions is neither of these things.

    Based on the self-penned article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate', it's the true story of Mark O'Brien, a semi-polarized survivor of polio who spends his life being pushed around on a gurney by day, and sleeping in an iron lung at night. He's accomplished a lot for a man of such limited physical capacity; charming character played by charming character actor John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene), who acts his socks off without ever lifting a finger.

    But there's something missing in Mark's life: sex. After a trepidatious hunt for the right service, Mark hires surrogate sex therapist Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to fulfil his needs. Like most fumbling male virgins, the road to sexual prowess proves bumpy (so I hear). Caught between a rock and a not-so-hard place, Mark seeks sexual advice in the laid-back catholic clergyman, Father Brendan (played by the ever-sagacious old owl, William H. Macy). Through the six sessions, Mark is sexually liberated, and his heartstrings are plucked.

    It could have been a source for crude slapstick comedy, but director and adapted screenplay writer Ben Lewin doesn't settle for cheap sight gags and befuddled pious figures. The unflinchingly presented scenarios are certainly humiliating, but more poignant then hilarious. When we do laugh, Mark is in on the joke, more often than not he is telling it; from his belief in 'a god with a sinister sense of humour' to jousting with the priest about sexual positions.

    While Hawkes' astounding performance comes as expected, Helen Hunt is the real revelation and beating heart of the film. Her Oscar nominated appearance as the naked counsellor is so multifaceted and melancholic. A career best for her, in so few words Hunt manages to detail how Cheryl gets just as much emotional connect out of 'the sessions' as Mark does.

    It's not twee, laugh out loud hilarious or deeply profound; it's not even that remarkable. What Ben Lewin does deliver is a drama-comedy in the purest sense, filled with fantastic performances, an excellent script and an unashamedly feel-good factor at it's core.
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  15. Aug 2, 2013
    7
    The Sessions is a great indie film that maturely explores topics of sexuality, with a focus on disability. Based on a true story, as often films like this are, it is truly mind boggling once one realises how ability and disability shape our lives in a lot of ways, and that is exactly what The Sessions brings out.
    The screenplay is well written, but it is based on the actual work by Mark
    The Sessions is a great indie film that maturely explores topics of sexuality, with a focus on disability. Based on a true story, as often films like this are, it is truly mind boggling once one realises how ability and disability shape our lives in a lot of ways, and that is exactly what The Sessions brings out.
    The screenplay is well written, but it is based on the actual work by Mark O'Brien (portrayed by the excellent John Hawkes). I was one of the rare people who was not surprised in the least with Hawkes' Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for "Winter's Bone" since I believed his performance was superior to that of Jennifer Lawrence. Yet again, he has proven me right. Exquisite, nuanced performance that comes to life out of his eyes. Simply amazing. Helen Hunt, who received a Oscar nomination for portraying the sex therapist O'Brien sees, is also a revelation. A very mature, down-to-earth, "real" performance. She doesn't overact or overly dramatise any single moment. Even her breakdown scene is rather demure and feels incredibly real.

    The performances were definitely the highlight of the film, and they truly made the story come to life in the best possible way. Some people might not like the story itself, but that is another issue. I have to give credit where credit is due, though: very few American films deal head-on with sex and sexuality, yet alone for non-mainstream sexuality, such as heterosexual, able-ist and marriage-bound. Sex and sexuality have been European cinema's turf for the longest time, and it is very nice to see filmmakers trying to grapple with it, and actually managing quite successfully. I'd highly recommend this film to anyone. Inspiring and thought provoking, with excellent performances a must see!
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  16. Lyn
    Nov 25, 2012
    7
    The actors in this movie all look "real" -- which is especially welcome in a film based on a real story. The focus on sexual experience makes this one an interesting departure from most of the other movies you've seen about the challenges & inner lives of people with severe disabilities. And it's handled in an admirably matter-of-fact way with excellent performances. However, I think itThe actors in this movie all look "real" -- which is especially welcome in a film based on a real story. The focus on sexual experience makes this one an interesting departure from most of the other movies you've seen about the challenges & inner lives of people with severe disabilities. And it's handled in an admirably matter-of-fact way with excellent performances. However, I think it would have been even more interesting had the filmmaker not added the Hollywood angle of the disabled man and his sexual surrogate falling in love. According to his actual account of the experience, they didn't. Expand
  17. Feb 14, 2013
    7
    A brave film with truly remarkable performance from John Hawkes who continues to impress in his recent outings. And he does it while barely moving a muscle. Helen Hunt bares all (literally and otherwise) in a film that has poses philosophical questions on social and emotional levels. However, if you peel away the memorable performances, there is little else to say about the film.
  18. Nov 17, 2012
    7
    Moving is "The Sessions," even erotic at times, an unexpected development. Viewers exit the theater with a greater sense for all the things that sex means in human life.
  19. Jan 5, 2013
    7
    What a delectable film this was. The Session was a moving tale of a man, crippled by polio who seeks a sex surrogate at the age of 38 to finally achieve that first sexual experience. John Hawkes is emotionally riveting as this crippled poet, Mark O'Brien. He makes a strong case by giving a light yet, hefty emotional punch, while at the same contorting his body to resemble the real manWhat a delectable film this was. The Session was a moving tale of a man, crippled by polio who seeks a sex surrogate at the age of 38 to finally achieve that first sexual experience. John Hawkes is emotionally riveting as this crippled poet, Mark O'Brien. He makes a strong case by giving a light yet, hefty emotional punch, while at the same contorting his body to resemble the real man which this film is based on. Equally impressive is Helen Hunt, baring it all (no pun intended) as the sex surrogate who makes it clear that her profession is completely different from prostitution. Also of note is William H. Macy, who adds a light touch, as Mark's open minded priest who supports his endeavor every step of the way. The direction in this movie was very subtle and character oriented; and the screenplay was refreshing and filled with frank dialogue. Running at a brisk 95 minutes, it felt as if it went by fast, but it left quite an impression. The Sessions was a small but moving film that deserves everyone's full attention. Expand
  20. Mar 20, 2013
    7
    A fun and quirky story. Just wasn't enough, and not in a good way. I just felt at the end like, "This is it?". Still a very good movie, but I was left unsatisfied as what was presented. Not as good as I originally thought it would be.
  21. Nov 13, 2014
    7
    "The Sessions" 10 Scale Rating: 7.0 (Good) ...

    The Good: Great acting all around. Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, and William H. Macy all turn in superb performances. Hawkes and Macy were especially good and I can't help but feel that they were overlooked at the Academy Awards. The story itself is an interesting one and they do a great job making you care about the plight of the lead
    "The Sessions" 10 Scale Rating: 7.0 (Good) ...

    The Good: Great acting all around. Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, and William H. Macy all turn in superb performances. Hawkes and Macy were especially good and I can't help but feel that they were overlooked at the Academy Awards. The story itself is an interesting one and they do a great job making you care about the plight of the lead character.

    The Bad: You expect it going in, but the awkwardness of the film can be a little much at times.
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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.