Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes) is a 36 year old journalist and poet living in California. Since the age of six, when he contracted polio, his world is totally physically restrictive as he has lost the use of his muscles from the neck down. He can’t breathe or move without assistance – he sleeps in an iron lung and several carers tend to his every daily need. After an emotional relationship, he is confused about his feelings and so his carer, Vera, (by Moon Bloodgood) suggests he sees a sex therapist. Deeply Catholic and unsure, he seeks approval from his priest, Father Brendan (by William H. Macy) and tentatively begins a series of sessions with Cheryl Cohen-Greene (by Helen Hunt). Mark has long talks with his priest about the sessions with Cheryl and embarks on a remarkable journey of physical and emotional discovery.
This is a beautifully told story – it is honest, direct and unapologetic in its exploration of these sensitive issues. In real life, Mark O’Brien is an advocate for the disabled but this is a fictional account of his introduction to sex. The performances are remarkable – John Hawkes’s portrayal of O’Brien is brave and impressive. William H Macy is wonderful – he presents the endearing Father Brendan in a modern and non-judgemental way that makes you wish there was more of him here. By far the best performance is by Helen Hunt – this is the best I have ever seen her. The scenes involving Mark and Cheryl are beautifully done, sensitive and Helen Hunt has done a marvellous job to educate the audience about the important work of these therapists. There is a very nice thread of comedy throughout the movie, which is welcome in one or two places where scenes have the potential to get dry. I think we will see Moon Bloodgood in more movies in future too – I hope so. Take a bow, Ben Lewin, this is an amazing work. Well done.
Made in 2012. Directed by Ben Lewin.