- Running Length:1hr 34mins
- Cast:Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, John Hawkes, Moon Bloodgood, Stephen Nemeth, Annika Marks
- Rated:M - Contains sex scenes, nudity & sexual references
A film about a severely physically disabled man struggling to experience sex does not sound, on the face of it, like an enjoyable night out at the cinema. But the subject of this film, poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, has such an engaging sense of humor that the film is injected with a levity the subject matter does not instantly point to.
Crippled from the neck down by a childhood brush with polio, Mark, with the support of his family and a series of carers, managed to complete college and pursued a successful career as a journalist. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that he could not survive more than a few hours outside an iron lung.
Right from the start Mark exhibits an interest in sex. A young carer becomes the object of obsession, but leaves after Mark makes an ill-thought out marriage proposal. It is not until he’s assigned an article on sex for the disabled that Mark begins to explore the possibility that he might be able to experience physical intimacy. His quest for it is hampered by his Catholic upbringing and the religion’s strict attitudes toward sex.
Religion plays a big part in this film, with much of Mark’s experience recounted to the new, young parish priest who becomes both confessor and friend. William H Macy is in fine form as the smoking, drinking and morally flexible priest.
When Mark’s research leads him to an academic who introduces him to the concept of a sex surrogate, he realizes sex may just be within his grasp. With great trepidation he calls Cheryl, a wife and mother who makes her living by putting people in touch with their sexuality so they can be intimate with future partners.
Hawke is incredible in this role. He has only his face and voice to act with but never are we in any doubt as to what is happening or what Mark is thinking or feeling. Even the physical challenges of breathing are starkly evoked. Hunt matches Hawke’s performance, invoking Cheryl with a warmth that spills through the screen. It’s a brave role for any woman over the age of forty given that she spends much of the film naked.
The film is not coy about sex or the difficulties both Cheryl and Mark face as a result of Mark’s condition. Yet the film is not in any way lewd. It’s funny. Touching. Awkward. Certainly one of the best films of 2012.