The Surrogate

Editor’s note: With Sundance winner The Sessions (formerly titled The Surrogate) hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our festival review, originally published on January 25, 2012. Based on the article, Seeing A Sex Surrogate, The Sessions takes you into the life thirty-eight year old Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) who has lived with polio since the age of six. Only able to be out of his iron lung for a few hours a day, Mark is otherwise stuck inside with just his thoughts, poetry, and faith. Most would resent a life like this, but Mark finds the humor in his situation, always putting those around him at ease and never letting the fact that he can barely move his head from side to side limit his ambition. Having graduated from the University of Berkeley, Mark now has even bigger aspirations in his life – he wants to lose his virginity. Mark takes a shine to one of his aids and while it seems she seems to return his affection, when he expresses it, she gets scared and runs away. Mark jokes to his priest (William H. Macy) that he tried to go about his sexual revolution the “proper” way, but now he has another option he is considering – a sex surrogate who specializes in helping the disabled not only have sex, but teach them the tools and skills to have their own sexual relationships.

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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:

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There’s a solid chance that you haven’t heard of most of these movies. Yet they exist – out there somewhere as a thorn in the side of movie fans trying to see as much as possible. Nuggets of potential waiting to be picked up from the movie orphanage by a distributor and given a warm home with cup holders in every seat. The European Film Market is fascinating for that reason and for the way people attend it. Tickets this year were around $600, but that’s a reasonable price for companies sending representatives trying to find the next moneymaker for their company or the hot movie to bring to their festival. That means screenings come complete with people on cell phones and unimpressed buyers walking out after ten minutes to hustle next door to see if the other movie playing has any promise to it. It’s a bizarre way to watch movies, but it makes a kind of sense given the massive size of the movie list compared to the tiny amount of time to see everything. There were upwards of 675 movies in the EFM this year, all of them with their own selling points. Here are the 87 most interesting-sounding with descriptions found in the official catalog. For the most part, I haven’t seen these movies (and didn’t even know about many of them until the Berlin Film Festival), but they all have something going for them that should earn them a spot on your radar.

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John Hawkes in The Surrogate

John Hawkes has quickly became one of my favorite actors by giving my favorite supporting performances of the last two years. First he was the oddly intimidating Uncle Tear Drop in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, and last year he was the strangely charismatic cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Both of those films made their initial splashes at Sundance, and seeing as this year Hawkes returned to the festival, this time in a leading role, with the movie The Surrogate, I think there’s a good chance he could give my favorite performance of the year overall in 2012. That is, if reports of the film getting lengthy standing ovations and the glowing review of our own very helpful Allison Loring can be believed. The thing that strikes me about Hawkes is the absolute authority he’s able to command his characters with. He’s a slight man, but he made me fear him completely as Tear Drop. He’s not a pretty man, but he sold me completely on the spell he had those girls under in Martha Marcy May Marlene. In The Surrogate he plays Mark O’Brien, a poet who suffers from Polio, which has left him with a severely curved spine. Hawkes gave a pretty lengthy interview about the movie to Vulture, and the most interesting bits of it, to me, were the parts where he talks about how taxing it was physically to bring this character to life. It sounds like we’re getting another Hawkes performance where he goes all in.

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It is day four of the festival (although it feels like we’ve been here much longer) and I realized this morning as I sleepily boarded the shuttle that since I have only been going to P&I (press and industry i.e., you don’t need a hard ticket but you do need credentials) screenings, I have only been to the Holiday and none of the other venues. That will change tomorrow morning when I finally hit up Eccles (one of my favorite theaters here), but it was strange to realize I haven’t really been outside the Holiday, Yarrow, Sundance HQ radius the past few days. (This may also explain why things are starting to blend together for me.) Averaging about five hours of sleep a night (better than last year’s two!) and one real meal a day, I try to make that one meal count. Today I (along with almost every other critic and blogger here at the fest) hit up Flippin’ Burgers, which not only has amazing burgers, fries and shakes, but also free WiFi and plays a constant loop of terribly hilarious songs and yes, Enrique Iglesias’ “Baby I Like It” has been stuck in my head all afternoon. Hopefully this place sticks around for another year (although, rumor has it that it’s been around and we just now discovered it) so if you make it to Sundance next year, add it to your list of places to check out. Granted, you have to Frogger your way across the street […]

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As I touched on in my roundup of the must-see films set to screen during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, there are many titles to choose from, but in looking over the ten films I am most looking forward to seeing I realized my interest is centered around character driven narratives (both funny and dramatic) and documentaries with their roots in music (no surprise there.) Of course with a full week at the festival, I am aiming to take in as many movies as I can, but these were the ten that stayed at the top of my list as I revised (and revised) my schedule. From actors I have had my eye on to compelling stories that grabbed my attention, keep your browsers bookmarked to FSR as I review each of these films and discover whether I was right (or wrong) with my choices here.

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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.19.2014
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