First Hit: A touching thoughtful film.
In 1980 I audio recorded a conference on sexuality and the handicapped and disabled. It was very eye-opening and enlightening. During the 3 days I learned so much about how sexuality can enter and be embraced fully in a handicapped or disabled person’s life.
Here, the story is around Mark O’Brian (played by John Hawkes) who got polio when he was 8 years old. He wasn’t expected to live very long but now he’s over 35 and he’s still going strong. He lives most of his days in an iron lung in is small apartment and writing poems. He has helpers who moved him from place to place after he got involved in too many accidents with his electric gurney.
During the film he goes through different daytime women helpers, one with whom he falls in love. He’s never had a sexual relationship and decides he wants one and asks his priest Father Brendan (played by William H. Macy) if it would be OK – sex out of marriage.
He begins to work with a sex therapist named Cheryl (played by Helen Hunt). Here is where the acting becomes phenomenal. All the actors seem to fully embrace this story and their roles with deep compassion. Vera (played by Moon Bloodgood), his latest keeper is matter of fact, direct, and certainly someone I’d trust to be a caretaker. Her interaction with the hotel clerk is great.
Cheryl is beautiful, compassionate and hardened by her current life with a husband who doesn’t do a whole lot. The hardened part is seen around her mouth and the occasional forced smile. Mark is constantly fighting the battle of fear of the unknown and embracing becoming a sexually experienced man.
This film is very well acted by all.
Hawkes is amazing in this role and reflects O’Brian’s fears and limited abilities in an effective way. Macy was superb as the catholic priest whom guides Mark to explore his sexuality (“I think God will give you a pass on this”). Hunt is phenomenal as Cheryl and displays the right touch of vulnerability and factual practical empathy. Also very brave of her to appear fully naked over and over again in this role. As one would expect her own stuff appears and the way she internalizes it is shear talent. Bloodgood is wonderful in her role as caretaker. Ben Lewin wrote a very strong screenplay and also directed this film openly crisp.
Overall: Both educational and powerful in its execution by all actors.