Although never reaching the emotional depths of other recent carer-giver movies - Rust & Bone, Amour, etc - The Sessions is a solid if unremarkable drama.
"I believe in a God with a wicked sense of honour who made me in His own image," says poet Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a polio sufferer who relies on two volunteers to help him in and out of his iron lung. A minor celebrity already after being deemed newsworthy when he obtained his degree in English, Mark is hired by a newspaper to write an article on sex and the disabled. After getting the go-ahead from William H. Macy's shaggy-haired priest, Mark employs sex therapist Cheryl (Hunt) to be his 'sex surrogate' in a series of sessions.
Although religion pumps through the heart of this (inspired by a) true story - Mark's iron lung is adorned with religious imagery; Hunt is described as a 'saint'; Mark's premature ejaculation is 'God's punishment' etc. - Lewin skilfully avoids the elephant in the room: the 'what kind of God could do this to me?' question. Despite Mark's frustration at his lot, he never rails against God and stays strangely affable throughout. Maybe this is one of the film's strengths - it doesn't go down the expected route - but the unexpected route is also the easier one.
When Cheryl's tender but cool professionalism turns to something more it comes as too much of a shock. It's a major shift in emotion but the scenes where she sees Mark as something more than a client are missing. Cheryl's notes on the sessions - Mark's sexual issues are manifestations of the guilt that his little sister died because his parents were too involved in looking after him - hint at a more difficult but ultimately better film bubbling under the surface, but Mark's self-deprecating humour and witty narration are called upon to drag things back to the light.
Problems aside, this is a touching affair with a brave Hunt and a mesmerising Hawkes in fine form, while the sessions themselves are as compelling and engrossing as you'll see this year.