The Sessions 4.0 stars

Did you hear the one about the 38-year-old virgin in the iron lung who hired a sex surrogate to take the cherry off the sundae? The trailer unspooled like a checklist of everything culpable in American cinema: a cute, fact-based, feel-good “disease of the week” romcom equipped with an endless supply of close-ups, plus William H. Macy as a cuddly Father Flanagan type. But instead of the handful of mean-spirited snickers (or an early exit) the trailer promises, The Sessions rewards its viewers with an extraordinarily moving emotional experience. (I admit it: I cried. The last time I cried during a movie was when I glanced at my watch and realized there were still two hours left to go in Schindler's List.) Instead of resigning himself to playing a talking head, John Hawkes shatters the built-in limitations of his character, pulling off what could amount to the most challenging role of his career. And those who want to see more of Helen Hunt — she plays the therapist with the can opener to Hawkes’s heart — will have their chance. This is the first time in eons where onscreen nudity is not only justified, it’s essential to the script. What helps to elevate the story above your average Lifetime Channel presentation is writer-director Ben Lewin’s (Paperback Romance) sensitive attention to detail. This isn’t a one-character/one-trait affair; Lewin endows even the most seemingly insignificant role with depth and dignity. A love story with an iron lung at its core is a definite hard sell, but Lewin proves that there’s no such thing as a bad story, only bad storytellers. Don’t let the subject matter keep you away from this remarkable movie. With Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin, Ming Lo, and Rhea Perlman. 2012.

Scott Marks

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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