Clocking in at a little over an hour and a half, this little independent film got Helen Hunt nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2012. Some will say it’s for her willingness to lay it on the line and get buck naked for most of it and I have to tell you…they’d be right. Despite the fact that it DOES take a lot of guts for a well known actress to do what she’s done here, it really isn’t THAT sophisticated of a role to justify winning the top dog award in a category that sparkled with some pretty stiff competition. That being said, I am a little surprised the John Hawkes wasn’t nominated for his performance because it dominates this movie and makes it a lot more interesting than it probably would have been otherwise.
The story is based on a the true story of poet Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) who was paralyzed from the neck down due to polio. He lived his life in an iron lung and could only be taken out of it for a few hours at a time. Being a grown man, he yearned for the touch of a woman and wanted to know what physical love felt like. In order to do that, he hired a sex surrogate to teach him and to aid him in his budding curiosity about sex and love . Obviously there were failings and a couple misguided attempts, but his surrogate, Cheryl Green (Hunt), taught him what it felt like to not only enjoy the physical touch of a woman but how to love himself also. This all works pretty well until there is an added twist when Cheryl comes to find that she really likes Mark despite her efforts to keep him at a distance and begins to struggle with her attraction with him despite being a professional surrogate and not a “hooker.”
And this is where I had issues with this movie. The fact that there seemed to be so much confusion on Cheryl’s part as far as her feelings for Mark really was contradictory to her character. In the beginning she made it very clear that she was only in it to “teach” others the joy of sex. But as the story went along, she started to find herself interested in him personally and the story suddenly shifts towards her marriage with her husband (Adam Arkin). I couldn’t tell if she was unhappy with her husband or if she was simply developing a crush on Mark. Either way, it didn’t fit the story very well and it didn’t gel for me. Other than that, I found this film to be quite courageous in the way director & writer Ben Lewin handles the topic of sexuality among the handicapped and I applaud him for handling such matters with grace and uplifting storytelling!
Other fine performances came from William H. Macy as the priest that Mark confides in. Watching him become uneasy as Mark explains his situation is almost worth the price of the ticket. And Moon Bloodgood is pretty good as Vera, his nurse, who helps him get to and from his sessions. Some of their dialogue is the best in the movie!
Overall, I’m not sold that this is a GREAT movie but it IS worthy of your time. I would say that if you’re looking for a thought-provoking date night on your couch kinda movie? This one can fit the bill.
Overall Rating: B-