[caption id="attachment_151556" align="alignleft" width="300"] Fox Searchlight[/caption]
An unqualified triumph at this year's Sundance Film Festival (where it nabbed both the Audience and Special Jury Prize awards), "The Sessions" has the surefire potential to go all the way. And, by that, we mean to the Oscars, baby.
Based on the autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, "The Sessions" tells O'Brien's story of how he made the most out of his life, despite being hindered by an iron lung. At the outset of the drama, written and directed by Ben Lewin, O'Brien (an Oscar-worthy John Hawkes giving the performance of his career) confides in his priest (William H. Macy) that he's determined to finally lose his virginity at 38 years old. To his surprise, his priest eggs him on, leading to an appointment with Cheryl, a professional sex surrogate (a brave and unforgettable Helen Hunt making a huge comeback), to help make O'Brien's dream a reality.
While the plot for "The Sessions" has all the makings of a dreary Lifetime special, Lewin ensures that it's anything but by dealing with the sex in a remarkably frank and honest way, and giving great depth to the deep bond forged between Mark and Cheryl.
Hawkes, best known for his Oscar-nominated turn in "Winter's Bone," is a total marvel as O'Brien. Limited to only using his face, Hawkes turns in a bracingly humane performance that's both vulnerable and wry. He makes O'Brien not a pitiable figure, but a relatable one worth rooting for.
The same goes for Hunt. Afforded her best role in ages, she shows that her Oscar win for "As Good As It Gets" was no fluke, reminding us why we fell in love with her in the first place. Armed with great comic timing and dramatic skills, Hunt fires on all cylinders as a sex surrogate who has her own baggage that she leaves at the door when engaged with a client. She also shows great bravery by leaving nothing to the imagination when it comes to the nudity required of the role. It's hard to imagine many actresses of her caliber approaching the material with such bravado – Hunt goes there.
Oscar nominations for the two are all but assured. Stay ahead of the curb by catching "The Sessions" before the big announcement is inevitably made. And, if we're wrong, just be happy you saw one of the year's best films.