Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, the sex surrogate that Mark hires to guide him through his sexual awakening. She sets out the ground rules at their first meeting, making it clear that theirs is a professional relationship. There are to be no more than six sessions, presumably in order to avoid emotional attachment forming on his part. Of course, things turn out to be more complicated than that, and not just on his side. Hunt is fully deserving of her Oscar nomination for this role, baring Cheryl’s body but leaving her soul slightly more hidden as her suburban family life wobbles around her growing feelings for Mark.Mark is a religious man, joking (or not?) that he needs to believe in God so that he has someone to blame for his disability. He develops a strong friendship with his priest Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy. Macy doesn’t have that much to do in the film, but he does do it well. When Mark tells him about the surrogate plan and asks if it is a sin, his initial response is “sex outside marriage?”. His Catholicism is however of a type that doesn’t get shown that much in cinema, and his compassion overrides his strict adherence to doctrine. He tells Mark that he thinks God would give him a free pass for this one. He is a good man, though whether he is a good priest is perhaps a matter for the Catholic church.
This could have been a sanctimonious, patronising film about the triumph of the human spirit, but thanks to a snappy, very funny script, sensitive direction, and above all completely convincing performances by the leads, The Sessions turns out to be a charming look at how people can touch each other emotionally. The fact that this is achieved in a film about people touching each other physically makes it an even more impressive feat.