I wanted to love The Sessions more than I did, but in a year with too few films to crow about, it is a standout and well worth the price of admission for John Hawkes’ performance alone. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then you’ve missed some of the best performances of the last few years. Hawkes catapulted from character actor to full-fledged movie star with his gutwrenching performance as Teardop in writer/director Debra Granik’s haunting Winter’s Bone, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. He followed it up, for good measure, as the creepy cult leader Patrick in writer/director Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, for which Hawkes received his second (but certainly not his last) Oscar nod.
The Sessions can be a little sentimental at times, but Hawkes’ is such a revelation as a Mark O’Brien, the poet and journalist who contracted polio as a child and spent most of his life inside an iron lung, that it’s hard to really mind. The love stories between O’Brien and the women who people his life are among the most moving I’ve seen on film. Each woman is perfectly cast, from Annika Marks as the nurse who awakens Mark to love, Helen Hunt as the therapist who proves that someone will love him back, and Robin Weigart as the woman who will love and share the rest of his life with him.
If you saw Hawkes’ performances in Winter’s Bone or Martha Marcy May Marlene, you know he can play dark. In The Sessions, he proves that he can play anything. As Mark O’Brien, he is vulnerable, physically broken and vibrantly alive, conveying, through a body that can barely move, the full range of human experience and desire.
With The Sessions, Hawke will almost certainly be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, and it will be a nomination well-deserved.
The Sessions opens in select theatres today.
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PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.