Riveting performances from John Hawkes and Helen Hunt anchor this moving and unabashedly droll film about a 38-year-old man confined to an iron lung and his endeavours to lose his virginity.
Paralysed after childhood polio, Mark (Hawkes) has lived life to the fullest, defying all medical expectations and maintaining a rich intellectual career as a poet and journalist. While his quick wit makes him an irrepressible flirt, his encounters with women are mostly confined to his caregivers, and physical intimacy continues to elude him. Frustrated and fearful, he raises the issue with his progressive priest (William H. Macy) and ultimately engages a sex surrogate (Hunt) whose services will be limited to six sessions and are designed to assist disabled people transition to sexual activity.
Based on the autobiographical writings of Mark O’Brien, who was also the subject of Jessica Yu’s Academy Award-winning documentary Breathing Lessons, writer-director Ben Lewin’s superb script achieves a fine balance between the emotional poignancy of the story and the wry, self-deprecating humour of its lead character, transforming a potentially confronting subject into a warm, compelling and highly enjoyable film.