And Hawkes, you should forgive the expression, doesn’t make a false move. His is a performance that could be calculated for maximum awards bling and will probably net some, and it’s a challenge on the visual level alone: Mark is almost always shot in close-up and horizontally, his face twisting toward the heavens of the upper frame-line. Yet the character’s soft-spoken sincerity can disarm even cynical viewers predisposed to distrust Oscar-season dramas about the disabled. Mark doesn’t rage at the universe like Christy Brown or Ron Kovic. He just wants what the rest of us have — sex is only part of it — and he knows there’s no reason on earth or up above that he should be denied.
“The Sessions” flirts with pathos but mostly stays true to its low-key honesty; only Marco Beltrami’s score tries to sneak in and tug our heartstrings from time to time. By the final scenes, all that restraint may have you in a soggy heap on the theater floor, just as Cheryl has a terrible moment in her car where her defenses finally give way. But the great grace of this movie isn’t that we’re crying for all that Mark O’Brien missed out on in life. We’re crying for everything he had.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.