November 9, 2012 -- This movie about a lonely man seeking love is extremely touching. It is even more memorable because it is based on a true story. A remarkable actor, John Hawkes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) gives a remarkable performance as a remarkable character, Mark O'Brien, paralyzed from the neck down from childhood polio. Even though Mark spends most of his life in an iron lung because he has trouble breathing, he longs for love, and a more normal life.
Mark, who is a poet and journalist, gets an assignment one day to do a story on how handicapped people experience sex. He learns about sexual surrogates who help handicapped people and he decides he would like to try this himself. He has never had a sexual experience in his life. He consults a priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy of “The Lincoln Lawyer”). Father Brendan is torn by church teachings against fornication, but he feels Mark's unique situation is different. He decides that Jesus would give Mark a pass. “Go for it,” he advises.
Cheryl (Helen Hunt of “Soul Surfer”) is a sex therapist experienced working with handicapped people. She lays down the rules for Mark. She will do no more than six sessions with him. She doesn't want to get emotionally involved with him, but she does. Mark has a wonderful sense of humor and he also writes beautiful poems. He is terribly shy and nervous in his first session, but is able to make good progress after that.
In addition to Cheryl, Mark also has feelings for Amanda (Anikka Marks of “Mona Lisa Smile”) his former assistant. When Mark tells her that he loves her, she can't handle that. She leaves him, and Mark has to find another assistant, who turns out to be another very nice person, Vera (Moon Bloodgood of “Terminator Salvation”). Vera turns out to be very kind and understanding. She has some interesting scenes with a motel manager who is somewhat mystified by the business of sex surrogates at work in his motel.
Cheryl gets emotionally involved with Mark and this causes friction with her husband, Josh (Adam Arkin of “A Serious Man”). Despite Mark's condition and despite his emotional setbacks, he is not defeated by them. Mark continues to live his life to the fullest. This is a wonderful, uplifting message. John Hawkes, who was nominated for an Oscar for his scary performance in “Winter's Bone,” is even better in this film. He may get the Oscar this time around. It is a wonderful, moving performance, and a real break from the brooding, psychotic characters he has played in recent films.
Helen Hunt used to have a very expressive face, but her face seemed to be botox-stiff in this film. It was a bit disconcerting. She is nevertheless a fine actress and gave a solid performance otherwise, as did Macy, Arkin and the rest of the cast. The screenplay, by writer-director Ben Lewin, is filled with memorable lines and wonderful conversations between characters. Lewin's direction is spot-on too. The pace of the film never lags. This film rates an A.
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