Reel Life mini-review: "The Sessions"
Two outstanding and brave performances highlight Ben Lewin's problematic, fact-based drama that dares to acknowledge that the severely disabled have needs, too.
"The Sessions" (previously titled "The Surrogate," then "Six Sessions") begins with a bland TV news report about Mark O'Brien, a student and poet who contracted polio at age 6 and must now rely on an iron lung to stay alive.
This blunt, cold beginning is all wrong for the movie's sensitive, tender tone and pre-empts us getting to know and understand Mark on our own terms. He's played with a remarkable restraint and empathy as a 38-year-old by John Hawkes. (He played Jennifer Lawrence's tough co-star in "Winter's Bone.")
Mark decides he wants to go all the way with a woman. When his candidates dwindle to none, he reaches out to a sex surrogate, a married mother named Cheryl Cohen Green (Helen Hunt).
Legally, she can only give Mark six sessions. (That's the difference between a surrogate and a prostitute, she explains.) Their time together is difficult initially, but Cheryl does her best to help Mark in his quest -- while remaining alert to growing emotional attachments.
Director Lewin recovered from a case of childhood polio, and this experience no doubt informs the film's bold and tastefully rendered sex scenes that come off surprisingly warm, yet technical without being clinical.
Comedy relief is supplied by Father Brendan (William H. Macy), an irreverent, cigarette-smoking, longhaired, unorthodox priest who offers conflict-free support for Mark's plan to have sex outside of marriage. ("In my heart, I think He'll give you a pass on this one," a cheerleading Father Brendan says. "Go for it!")
Lewin piles on the crowd-pleasing elements at the expense of more realistic drama. The movie also gives into one of my least favorite ending devices.
Nonetheless, Hunt and Hawkes supply two of the most memorable performances of the year, and it would be fair to suggest they'll be remembered at Oscar time.
After all, Hawkes can't even maneuver his left foot as Daniel Day-Lewis could.
"The Sessions" opens at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. Rated R for language, nudity and graphic sexual situations. 98 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Reel Life mini-review: "The Other Son"
Lorraine Levy's Mideast drama "The Other Son" stops just short of having us all join hands and sing "Kumbaya" and "We Are the World" with its positive message of cooperation and reconciliation wrapped inside an investigation of identity.
Levy is too smart to let "The Other Son" drift into sentimental sap. "The Other Son" delivers its humanism straight up and neat with a chaser of hope and sincerity.
A simple blood test for the Israeli military reveals that young Joseph (Jules Sitruk) can't be the offspring of Alon and Orith (Pascal Elbe and Emmanuelle Devos). He was accidentally switched with another baby at birth. He has grown up to be Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), law student and son of two Palestinian parents (Khalifa Natour and Areen Omari).
Yep. It's a virtual "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" when Joseph's family invites Yacine's family over for some supper and soul searching as the antagonistic dads square off, and the compassionate mothers vault over the wall of suspicion and hate that separates them.
This well-directed drama benefits from a no-frills screenplay and a strong cast. When we first lay eyes on Yacine the Palestinian, we gasp, for he's the spitting image of Alon.
Yes, they are the world.
"The Other Son" opens at the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, drug use. 105 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Political films and 007!
Just in time for the upcoming election. Join me and novelist-historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents "Politics Goes to the Movies," 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the Elk Grove Village Public Library, 1001 Wellington Ave., Elk Grove Village. Clips from such films as "All the King's Men," "The Candidate," "The Great Dictator," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and many more. Free admission. Go to egvpl.org or call (847) 439-0447.
Reel Life film notes:
• Universal Pictures' digitally restored horror classic "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" (1954) will have its Chicago premiere when the Chicago Film Critics Association presents it at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Muvico Theaters Rosemont 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. CFCA member Lee Shoquist will host the event and conduct a post-screening Q&A. Chicago's Svengoolie will introduce the movie. Go to muvico.com for tickets. $15 for adults; $12.50 for children.
• Continuing the Halloween spirit, the Chicago Film Critics Association presents John Carpenter's classic horror tale "Halloween" 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, also at the Muvico Theater. CFCA member Lee Shoquist will introduce the film and conduct a Q&A after the screening. (Man, this guy gets around, doesn't he?)
• Several young Northwest suburban filmmakers won prizes in the After Hours Film Society's "Take 5 Student Film Festival." The winners will be screened at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, at the Classic Cinemas' Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove.
Lauren Vargo at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn won the Award of Excellence for "A Bee Story" in animation/experimental.
Nathen Fullerton of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park also won the Award of Excellence for "Dodgeball" in animation/experimental.
David Pierson of the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn won the Honorable Mention/Award of Merit for "Tea for Three" in animation/experimental.
Honorable mentions went to Ira Canete of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park for "Seasonal Life" and "Haiku," Connor Sparrow also of Willowbrook for "Crescendo di Colore," Lucas Chavez of Willowbrook for "T-shirts," Ian Donnelly of Hinsdale for "The Dark," Mia Husch and Claire Tylke of Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn for "Random Island," and Patty Sarver of the College of DuPage for "Peppy the Circus Peanut."
Tickets cost $5. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.comor call (630) 534-4528.
• And while you're at the Tivoli Monday night, stick around for one of the best movies of 2012, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $9. It's sponsored by the After Hours Film Society, too.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!