This surrogate comes in the form of Cheryl - portrayed by an unabashed Helen Hunt, who casually bares all for the audience in order to convey her sexually liberal attitudes. Interspersed with light theological conversations with his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), the film takes a run towards the romantic when Mark falls for Cheryl, despite the agreement that there would only be six sessions and no emotional attachment.
Macy's supporting role as Father Brendan provides some much-needed moments of light relief. There is also a rounded realism to the character, who happily discusses Mark's sexual needs in the full, slightly comic realisation of his own abstinence. Whilst this is obviously an important story to tell (exploring a problem not often discussed in cinema, or anywhere else for that matter), the drama at times disappoints and, even with full frontal nudity, feels too comfortable in its skin, losing its emotional edge in the second act.
Hawkes' performance undoubtedly warrants several award nods, but the overall drama found within Lewin's The Sessions lacks the necessary weight that the subject matter could have easily handled. This issue aside, this carefully-handled, anti-patronising drama successfully tells the story of one man's struggle to find love, both physical and emotional, whilst avoiding emotional manipulation and/or overt cliché.
This review was originally published on 18 October, 2012, as part of our London Film Festival coverage.