The Sessions (2012)

220px-The_Sessions_posterI was a bit skeptical of this film at first, but I can say unreservedly that it boasts true heart and sensitivity. In many respects, it reminds me of another film about a man with a so-called disability, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In both, a highly creative individual is able to defy their physical barriers and truly impact the world around them.

In the case of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), he graduated from Berkeley destined to become a journalist and poet, the only difference with him is that for most of his life he has been confined to an iron lung that keeps him alive. It seems like an obvious roadblock to success in life, and yet not so for Mark because he faces each day with a sense of humor and even a spirituality that is impressive. He relies on his caretakers for so much and yet they enjoy helping him because he is a generally kind spirit. First, it’s the beautiful Amanda (Annika Marks), who he sincerely professes his love to and then there’s Vera (Moon Bloodgood), who while frank, is still deeply concerned with his well-being. Furthermore, the local priest (William H. Macy) is equally willing to listen to Mark’s confessions, not simply about sins, but more importantly his life on a whole.

Mark’s a very transparent individual, who attacks life with a positivity and tenacity that goes beyond the physical. Wit becomes his precious ally in facing every day, and he also takes great care in the relationships around him. He wants to live his life to the fullest, and he won’t let an iron lung impede him. Thus, he decides that he would like to try and have sex since he is still a virgin and feels that he might not have long left to live. And so, after consulting with his priest and acknowledging the sensitive nature of the decision, he tentatively decides to go for it. Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) becomes his sex surrogate, and yet she is more of a therapist than anything else. She helps Mark become more and more comfortable in his own body and there is a beautiful vulnerability and openness to their time together.

The Sessions proves that there can be depictions of sex that can be as tender and sensitive as the characters involved. It’s not some vulgar act or a simple gratification of desire. It has more significance than that, just as these characters carry more significance. Father Brendan is not a perfect character just as Mark is not perfect, but we appreciate them for their geniality and light touches of humor. As for Cheryl, she does a great favor for Mark, and yet in the process she herself is deeply moved by this man in front of her. He’s seemingly so weak, so unassuming, and yet there is so much vibrancy to him.

The day Mark dies is sad for all of us and gathered at his funeral are all the people we expect to be there. The Father gives a heartfelt eulogy as all the women he touched sit in the pews looking on. The beauty of this story is that Mark finally did find love quite by accident, and he touched so many lives in the process. Though not a perfect film, The Sessions is heartfelt and that covers a multitude of faults.

4/5 Stars

Fargo (1996)

fargo1The Coen Brothers have always been an interesting case for me. I admit that there are still a lot of their films that I wish and need to see. Films like True Grit and Fargo I find thoroughly enjoyable or at least passable, but they do not completely resonate with me. However, I certainly respect them as writers, directors, and auteurs, because they know the lineage of film as a medium and they have their own unique way of approaching movies. It’s often clever, unique, and carries a wickedly funny tone no matter their subject matter.

Fargo is arguably their greatest work, following a kidnapping and murder investigation that involves Fargo, North Dakota and Minneapolis. William H. Macy is your standard Midwestern dupe Jerry Lundegaard, who makes an honest living selling cars. However, there’s another area of his life that’s not so honest. He’s in desperate need of money; we don’t know the reason, but he has resolved to hire two men to kidnap his wife. It doesn’t make much sense to the audience or the easily agitated crony Carl (Steve Buscemi). However, Jerry has a rich father in law with the necessary funds to bail out his daughter. And so it goes.

Except after the deed is done Carl and his taciturn accomplice Gaear get stopped by a highway patrolman and things are downhill from there. Murder, and blood, and more murder, all on a snowy Minneapolis evening.

The next morning pregnant cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) leaves her hubby and heads to the scene of the crime where she quickly pieces together the turn of the events. The search is on for the vehicle, and she questions a couple of prostitutes who aren’t much help except pointing out one of the men was “funny looking.”

Meanwhile, everything is falling apart on Jerry’s end with his father in law and he even gets paid a visit by Gunderson. When the drop finally does take place, Carl is livid when he is met by Wade instead of Jerry. He’s not messing around and neither is Jerry. Crime scene number 2 is set up. Carl finds a snowy locale to bury the payoff and heads back to the cabin, but he’s about had it with Gaear and the feelings are mutual.

Meanwhile, after a disturbing meeting with an old high school classmate Mike Yanagita (a rather troubling performance by Steve Park), Marge decides to question Jerry once again, and this time she gets somewhere. The reunion with Mike sets something off in her head.  Another tip eventually leads her to Gaear and his friendly neighborhood wood chipper. Being the pro-cop that she is, Marge subdues the culprit and gets an ABP out on Jerry which leads to his arrest. After a successful day at the office, it’s back to fast food and tv in bed with her loving husband Norm.

Fargo, to its credit, exudes a Midwestern charm thanks to all its colloquial “You betchas, darn tootin’s, heyas”, and so on. Perhaps most effectively it mixes the mundane and the violently shockingly in one pot of inspiration. The two-pronged story following two very different worlds somehow meets in the middle amidst all the improbability. The Coens start the film off labeling it as “based on a true story” and that opening statement had many people tricked. I myself was taken in the first time I saw it because however outrageous the following events are we trust the words of the filmmakers guiding us. And in the characters of Marge, Jerry, and most everyone else there is a charm or normalcy that feels so familiar. Thus, the Coens could get away with such outrageous plotting, because it so often felt grounded in truth.

4/5 Stars