Written and Directed By: Ben Lewin, Based on an Article by Mark O’Brien
Why I Saw It: Lots of reasons — mostly for John Hawkes and Helen Hunt
My Verdict: Definite thumbs up.
Thirty-eight-year-old writer and poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) survived polio as a child, but he is paralyzed and spends most of his life in an iron lung. His intelligence, good humor, and wry wit win people over, but for the most part, he lives a lonely life, surrounded only by personal aides.
Longing for love and intimacy, he seeks the help of Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a sex surrogate, to lose his virginity. He does this with the blessing of his compassionate, good-humored priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy).
This is a sweet, funny movie with a lot of heart, and it treads lightly on many complex issues. Mark’s lingering childhood guilt over his little sister’s accidental death. His guilt and ambivalence about sexuality, stemming from his upbringing and religious faith. The personal and social challenges of disability. The complexity of people’s intimacy needs, including sex, simple skin-on-skin contact, physical affection, and emotional connections. The need to become more comfortable with own own bodies.
This movie has a somewhat lightweight feel, and at moments it tried a bit too hard to be funny. However I didn’t mind, because I was captivated by the storytelling and strong performances. The heart of the film was the relationship between Mark and Cheryl, and this is what really made it work. Their performances were beautiful, and they had strong chemistry onscreen.
The weakest part of the movie, for me, is the development of Cheryl’s character outside her time with Mark. We get glimpses of her personal life, as a wife and mother to a teenage son, but they show us virtually nothing that helps us really know her.
I found this to be a compelling story and a well drawn character sketch of Mark, based on a real-life poet and writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Aside from the details of his life, which are fascinating in their own right, this is a film that will resonate with most viewers. It touches on broad themes, including isolation and the need for intimacy, which are familiar to all of us.
Memorable Quotes: I believe in God … I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this.