'The Sessions'

I guess I was expecting something a little more profound. The Sessions is the story of Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), a severely disabled middle-aged man kept alive by an iron lung who hires a a professional sex surrogate to make a man out of him. Helen Hunt, who seems to rocket back in to Oscar contention every couple of years after you almost forget she exists, plays the surrrogate, Cheryl.

Hunt's performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress nod at this year's Academy Awards, and it seems like she may have a good chance of winning. This is the first bit of hype that I just didn't quite understand about this film. To me, there was little about her performance that stood out as award-worthy, except for a pretty ragged New England accent that veers into Razzie territory. Hunt played a character she has many times -- the ADULT WOMAN who cajoles the best out of an emotionally stunted male -- and did little to distinguish herself in that role.

The second bit of hype was the notion that this was somehow a deeper and more honest examination of human sexuality than has been seen many times. The Sessions did not pass muster in this regard, either, though I'm not sure any film which the MPAA gave a non-NC-17 rating to would actually be capable of fitting the bill. Much is made of O'Brien's Catholicism in the film; his religion is a major hurdle to clear before he ever even meets with Cheryl, and his humorous relationship with Father Brendan (William H. Macy) is nearly as important as his connection with Cheryl. There is even a Holy Trinity of women.

In this sense, The Sessions is more about the awkward relationship we have with religion -- how it informs so much of what we do -- than it is about sexual behavior. In taking this turn, it becomes much less daring and trailblazing, though not significantly less enjoyable.