"Man, 38, writer. Looking for intelligent woman for companionship and perhaps sexual play." Perhaps not such an unusual scenario. Except that this writer has polio, and is consequently paralysed from the neck down. Which understandably makes meeting women difficult. Based on a true story, John Hawkes stars as disabled poet Mark O'Brien whose sexual awakening was kindled by sex therapist Cheryl Cohen-Greene (portrayed by Helen Hunt).
Mark O'Brien's life has already inspired a film - 1996's 'Breathing Lessons: The Life And Work Of Mark O'Brien' which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. 'The Sessions' takes a lighter yet similarly poignant look at his life, focussing on O'Brien's search for intimacy, aided by his "sexual surrogate" Cheryl Cohen-Greene.
Hunt has been rewarded for her role as Cohen-Greene with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress but it is John Hawkes' portrayal of O'Brien, which makes the film a success. Hawkes can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on an Oscar nomination of his own, following up his disturbing performance in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' with another mesmerising offering in 'The Sessions'.
Constrained by an iron lung, Hawkes' physical transformation is inescapably brilliant and utterly believable. Writer and director Ben Lewin's witty script provides Hawkes, and particularly O'Brien's irreverent priest (William H Macy), with ample flourishes of humour - a light-hearted complement to the inherent pain of O'Brien's struggles.
Macy's irreverence is perhaps a step too far, however, and Lewin's script has been criticised for its tunnel vision - lacking a more in-depth examination of O'Brien's life as a whole. His quest for love and lust is nonetheless compelling, albeit stumbling into artificial Hollywood melodrama at times.
'The Sessions' is out in UK cinemas now, through Twentieth Century Fox.