TCFF Day 5: ‘The Sessions’ Review

The fun fest continues for MN film lovers. I love the eclectic schedule of TCFF, mixing tiny-budgeted MN films with studio-backed films of various genres. Today we’ve got a regional premiere of a character-driven drama that’s been getting some Oscar buzz, and so far it has won the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

The Sessions

In one of the scenes in the film, the paraplegic Mark O’Brien called a university to inquire for someone in a Sex and the Disabled department, only to be told that the said department has closed down. That seems to be the general attitude of people—and Hollywood for that matter—on such topic, so it’s quite intriguing to see a film that tackles that subject head on but with care and wit.

Based on the autobiographical writings of Berkeley-based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, the protagonist played by John Hawkes has spent most of his entire life in an iron lung, a form of medical ventilator that enables him to breathe as his muscle control has been lost due to polio. One day he expresses his wishes to a priest of his local parish that he wants to ‘know a woman in the Biblical sense.’ The reaction of Father Brendan (William H. Macy) is quite hysterical, mostly because as a priest, he’s clearly not equipped to advise anyone on such matters, which makes for a hilarious yet heartfelt interaction between the two. With the priest’s blessings, the next thing Mark sets out to do is find a sex surrogate, a form of sexual therapy in which the therapist actually has sex with the patient in their ‘sessions.’

That’s when Cheryl (Helen Hunt) comes into the picture. After an awkward introduction where Mark sort of treats her like a prostitute, Cheryl firmly informs him that there’s a major distinction between that and her profession. ‘A prostitute wants repeat business, Mark, we don’t,’ she asserts, ‘and the maximum number of sessions we could have is six.’

The Sessions is a dramedy as there’s a good amount of both drama and comedy, but fortunately director Ben Lewin handles the delicate subject with care, and perhaps him being a polio survivor himself helps him present an insider perspective on someone dealing with that condition. Now, even though the sexual scenes are not vulgar or uncouth, they’re presented in a matter-of-fact manner, which means there’s an ample amount of nudity, perhaps more than what I’m usually comfortable with. I realize that the explicit sex and nudity scenes are meant to illustrate someone who’s comfortable with her sexuality and doesn’t see sex as a shameful act, but I feel that perhaps a little of that would still go a long way.

Despite all the sexual activity in the film, the film is more about Mark’s emotional journey as much as his physical one. What Cheryl did is more than just help him lose his virginity, she also helps Mark experience the emotional intimacy that he’s longed for all his life. I love how she values him as a beautiful human being, instead of just a patient, which in turns helps with his self image. There’s a scene where they both are having coffee and she has no qualms about pretending that Mark was her husband. Mark’s reaction is heart-wrenching. It’s just one of the many testaments of the resilience of the human soul shown in the film.

John Hawkes should get an Oscar nomination for his physically-challenging role, being confined to a bed/stretcher the entire film. He could only act with his facial expressions and boy did he pull it off beautifully. Every little tick and facial muscle communicates so much, plus he has such a charming and sweet presence on screen, Mark is never devoid of wit, thanks to the sharp script, also written by Lewin.

Helen Hunt gave a fearless performance as Cheryl, she effortlessly strips down not only physically but mentally as well, as the therapist became just as affected by the sessions as the patient. For someone nearing 50, she still has an amazing figure, though like many actresses in Hollywood, she seems to have become the victim of the Botox fiasco as her face just looks like it’s been pulled back way too tightly.

I LOVE William H. Macy in his droll comedic role as Father Brendan, his deadpan expressions as he listens intently and patiently to Mark’s graphic retelling of his um, sexual escapades is wickedly funny. In fact, every time he shows up on screen, the theater practically erupts in laughter. I’m also impressed by Moon Bloodgood (doesn’t she have the best name in Hollywood or what?), who plays against type as Mark’s assistant. I remember her in Terminator Salvation as a sexy, bad ass girl fighter who falls for the cyborg Marcus, but this understated but sympathetic role shows that she definitely can act.

Like I’ve alluded to before, I do feel that the nudity aspect is perhaps a bit overdone, it just seems over-indulgent to me. Fortunately, despite some uncomfortable scenes, I find this film emotionally engaging and wonderfully-acted. Kudos to Ben Lewin for crafting this touching story about a seldom-discussed subject and injects it with equal humor and poignancy. There is a clear message about living life to the fullest despite one’s physical limitations, but there’s also an underlying theme the transformative power of love and acceptance that a sex act alone cannot achieve.

4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this film and/or any of the actors? Well, let’s hear it!

Counting Down to TCFF! The Films I Can’t Wait to See

TCFF is just four days away and I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 9-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this post, but below is my full schedule of what I’ll be watching.

Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video with our hosts Amanda Day & Joe Kessler.

The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but heck I’m certainly going to try to see at least a dozen films or more if I could help it. This year, I’m also getting some blogging help from fellow Twin Citians (I actually never ever use that term before but seems kinda appropriate here, ahah): June from Girl Producer blog and Emery, a U of M Film Student and aspiring film reviewer. So expect to see TCFF movie reviews from all three of us starting this weekend.

So here are the list of films I can’t wait to see:


Full Film Schedule & Trailers at TCFF Official Site


Friday – October 12
A PLACE AT THE TABLE

This important documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges shines a light on the 30% of American families that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, there are plenty of other compelling docs playing at the film fest. I’ll be highlighting those later this week.


Saturday – October 13
IT’S A DISASTER

I like Julia Stiles, and I always think she should get more leading roles! Well, she’s got a starring role in this quirky apocalypse comedy, along with David Cross and America Ferrera.  Directed by actor/director Todd Berger (The Scenesters). Here’s a clip from the movie:


Sunday –  October 14
QUARTET

I just re-watched the trailer again and I’m even more excited about it now. Dustin Hoffman in his directorial debut has assembled quite a cast (Maggie Smith, Billy Connelly, Michael Gambon, etc.) in what looks like a delightful comedy about retired Opera singers. Sponsored by The Minnesota Opera.
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Monday –  October 15
FINDING HOME

This character-driven drama was shot in just 10 days in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Check out the promo for Minnesota films:


Tuesday – October 16
THE SESSIONS

Normally I wouldn’t think of someone being paralyzed from polio as being funny, yet somehow director Ben Lewin seems to have crafted a heartwarming comedy on that topic. The cast is a winner, I’ve always loved William H. Macy and he’s poised to be the scene-stealer here. John Hawkes is one of those instantly-likable actor, plus it’s been a while since I saw Helen Hunt in anything. Check out the trailer if you haven’t already.


Wednesday – October 17
NOBODY WALKS

I actually saw this trailer before I saw it on TCFF schedule, and I’m intrigued by the story. I’ve been hearing Olivia Thirlby‘s name being mentioned a lot lately as she starred in Dredd 3D, but this looks like a very different role for her. The cast includes John Krasinski and Rosemary DeWitt.



Thursday – October 18
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

I’ve mentioned in the lineup post that this film won Audience Award at TIFF. Well, this past week it just received another similar prize at Hamptons International Film Festival Awards. I’m normally not a Bradley Cooper fan but I’m prepared for him to change my mind. I do love Jennifer Lawrence and she’s perhaps poised to get another Oscar nom on this one.


Friday – October 19
NOT FADE AWAY

Feature film debut from the creator of The Sopranos David Chase. Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big. James Gandolfini also stars in the film.

A LATE QUARTET

This is one of those films you watch just for the cast. I mean, check this out, Christopher Walken AND Philip Seymour Hoffman, plus the excellent Catherine Keener in a string quartet where one of the member receives a life changing diagnosis which threatens the unity of the group. So there are TWO music-themed films with ‘quartet’ in the title that I’m looking forward to playing at TCFF! 🙂


Saturday – October 20
THE STORY OF LUKE

27 year-old Lou Taylor Pucci has got over two dozen films under his belt, yet I haven’t seen a single one yet. Well this will be the first then. He stars as a young man with autism who’s breaking free from the shelter of his grandparents and go on a quest for a job and true love. Also starring Seth Green and Cary Elwes.

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LUMPY

We don’t get a lot of films being filmed here in Minnesota, so it’s always nice to see it when that happens. Directed by a Minnesota- born director Ted Koland in his first feature film. It stars Justin Long and Jessica Weixler in story about a pair of newlyweds who has to bring their best man Lumpy’s body back to Minnesota for burial and what happens as friends try to reconnect with people who were in the dead guy’s life.


October is going to be the best movie-watching month for me. If you live in the area, I hope you’ll make time to check out TCFF!

What do you think of these movies, folks, which one(s) interest you most?

TCFF Lineup is here! Check out what’s showing Oct 12-20

Wahoo!! After months of planning, negotiating, previewing, etc. the TCFF board and staff have finally revealed the full lineup of its third film fest! As did the previous two years, TCFF have become the regional premiere of a lot of this season’s most-anticipated films. Steve Snyder, TIME magazine’s assistant managing editor and TCFF’s scheduler, said it best in his tweet about the event:


In less than a month away, the Showplace Icon Theatre in St. Louis Park (definitely my favorite theater in time with its awesome seat-reservation feature) will be the place to be for movie lovers! So before I get to the movies, be sure to get your tickets beginning Wednesday (tickets are $10 for individual passes and $120 for multi-film and party passes).

Here are a sampling of the notable movies, as Minneapolis StarTribune critic Colin Covert have mentioned in today’s article:

Oct 14 – Dustin Hoffman‘s directorial debut Quartet, a character study of retired opera singers starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. This one has a good potential to be noticed by the Academy, after all it’s by the Weinsteins and it doesn’t hurt that it’s written by Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Being Julia and The Pianist).

This just looks so delightful!! Harry Potter fans out there perhaps notice right away the reunion of Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, ahah! I always like lighthearted comedies starring senior seasoned actors and this certainly look like something I’d enjoy.

Oct 16The Sessions, an affecting comedy-drama inspired by the true story of a paralyzed polio survivor and the sexual surrogate who helped him lose his virginity in his late thirties. It stars Alexandria, Minn. native John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.

I have to admit the subject matter is a delicate one as it deals with disability AND sexuality, but I’ve got to admit the trailer looks quite heartwarming and sweet. Apparently the Australian director Ben Lewin, who himself lost the use of his legs to polio, seems to have direct this one with great humor and sensitivity.

Oct 18 Silver Linings Playbook starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro.

This is so exciting!! Just the other day I read that it won the coveted Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. That’s huge considering many previous Audience Award winners have gone on to win Oscar’s Best Picture, i.e. Chariots of Fire, American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, and The King’s Speech [check out this THR article how other previous TIFF’s audience choice have fared at the Oscar]. Apparently the runner-up was Ben Affleck’s ARGO, which has scored early raves at several film festivals.

Lawrence is the main draw for me here, and interestingly enough, I was also impressed by her in Like Crazy which won Best Feature at TCFF last year. I also like seeing Julia Stiles among the cast, she also stars in It’s a Disaster with America Ferrara, premiering Oct. 13.

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Oct 19 Not Fade Away, a rock ‘n’ roll coming of age tale set in 1964 New Jersey, the feature directing debut from David Chase, creator of HBO’s The Sopranos.

Opening & Closing Films

Oct 12 – As I’ve mentioned here, the program will open with the hunger documentary A Place at the Table featuring Jeff Bridges – A documentary that investigates incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans, it takes on the food issue from a new angle, shining a light on the 30% of American families—more than 49 million people—that don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Oct 20 – The festival will conclude with the comedy Lumpy, which was filmed in various Minnesota locations, starring Justin Long and Jess Weixler. The premise definitely has the recipe for an oddball comedy: The best man at Scott (Long) and Kristin’s (Weixler) Arizona destination wedding, Lumpy (Tyler Labine) is the life of the party, until a long, indulgent night leads to his untimely death. Forced to cancel their honeymoon and fly back to Minneapolis to arrange for his funeral, Scott and Kristin meet Ramsey (Timlin) and learn that Lumpy isn’t quite who they thought he was.

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I’ll be blogging more about other movies that’ll be playing at TCFF, but below is the full lineup!

2012 FULL SCHEDULE

October 12    

8:30PM: A Place at the Table, directed by Kristi Jacobson & Lori Silverbush, 86m

October 13

10:30AM: Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall, 87m

1:00PM: The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, 99m

3:00PM: The Iran Job, directed by Till Schauder, 93m

5:00PM: The Eyes of Thailand, directed by Tim Vandersteeg, 65m

7:00PM: It’s a Disaster, directed by Todd Berger, 88m

9:00PM: Bro’, directed by Nick Parada, 89m

October 14

11:00AM: Crazy & Thief, directed by Cory McAbee, 52m

12:15PM: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven Spielberg, 115m

2:45PM: We Are Wisconsin, directed by Annie Eastman, 105m

5:15PM: Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman, 97m

7:15PM: Stag, directed by Brett Heard, 83m

9:15PM: Dead Man’s Burden, directed by Jared Moshe, 93m

October 15  

7:00PM: Finding Home, directed by Chars Bonin, 90m

9:00PM: The “Lighter” Side (MN Shorts), Various MN Directors 100m

October 16

6:00PM: Best of MN: Festival Winners!, Various MN Directors, 60m

6:30PM: The Sessions, directed by Ben Lewin, 95m

8:30PM: The Rhymesayers European Tour, directed by Andrew Melby, 105m

October 17  

6:45PM: Dust Up, directed by Ward Roberts, 90m

7:00PM: Nobody Walks, directed by Ry Russo-Young, 83m

9:00PM: Opposite Blood, directed by Billy Xiong, 120m

October 18

2:45PM: American Autumn: An Occudoc, directed by Dennis Trainor Jr., 76m

4:45PM: Field Work: A Family Farm, directed by John Helde, 97m

6:30PM: Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell, 117m

6:45PM: Pincus, directed by David Fenster, 79m

8:45PM: Carlos Spills the Beans, directed by Brian McGuire, 90m

9:00PM: The “Darker” Side (MN Shorts), Various MN Directors, 110m

October 19  

2:15PM: Reportero, directed by Bernardo Ruiz, 71m

4:00PM: A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett & Mark Covino, 98m

6:00PM: Things I Don’t Understand, directed by David Spaltro, 111m

6:30PM: Not Fade Away, directed by David Chase, 117 min

8:30PM: A Late Quartet, directed by Yaron Zilberman, 105m

9:00PM: Problem Solving the Republic, directed by Elliot Diviney, 95m

October 20

11:00AM: Bay of All Saints, directed by Annie Eastman, 75m

11:30AM: Detropia, directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, 90m

12:45PM: After I Pick the Fruit, directed by Nancy Ghertnet & Cathleen Ashworth, 93m

1:45PM: Lies, Lust, Betrayal – and Cold-Blooded Murder (Indie Shorts), Various Directors, 81m

2:45PM: Take Care, directed by Scott Tanner Jones, 86m

3:45PM: Ready to Fly, directed by William Kerig, 96m

5:30PM: Dead Dad, directed by Ken J. Adachi, 81m

6:00PM: The Story of Luke, directed by Alonso Mayo, 95m

8:00PM: Lumpy, directed by Ted Koland, 91m


Well, what do you think of this year’s lineup? Which movie(s) here are you most excited about?