John Hawkes in The Surrogate

When you first hear that John Hawkes’ latest movie sees him playing a character whose spine has been left so curved due to a battle with polio that he’s completely immobile and even physically deformed, it sounds like it’s going to be a depressing affair. Is The Sessions one of those hand-wringing dramas that hammers home just how difficult and painful disability is, for two hours straight, and then ends on some sort of bittersweet but life-affirming moment? Not at all. Actually, from the looks of the first trailer, it seems like it’s a lot of fun:

Sure, you’ve got Hawkes tackling the character of poet Mark O’Brien with an authenticity that perhaps only he can muster, and the results are kind of difficult to watch. Word is he went as far as to physically injure himself in order to accurately portray a polio victim. But the focus of these clips isn’t on his lifelong struggle with pain and handicaps, it’s about exploration, curiosity, and reaching out and trying to embrace as much of life as one can. And seeing as all of this exploration and curiosity is of a sexual nature, well, it allows the movie to be chock full of light-hearted gags.

In addition to Hawkes being charming and relatable in the lead role, you’ve got William H. Macy nailing one liners as the too involved priest, Helen Hunt making Hawkes squirm as the too-casual sex surrogate, and Moon Bloodgood rolling her eyes as the too-sassy therapist.

The Sessions, when all is said and done, may prove to be one of the best blends of top notch, affecting acting, and silly sex humor ever put on film (besides the second American Pie movie). When it premiered at Sundance (and when it was then called The Surrogate), our own Allison Loring commented that “director Ben Lewin succeeds in crafting a film that takes on a difficult subject matter in a way that portrays even the most awkward moments with humor and honesty.”

It begins its limited release on October 26th. [Apple]


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