Have you ever heard of polio? It is a game, a shirt, and a physical ailment and certainly stands among the sexiest of all three. A lot of people don't know about it, though. And seeing how this is award season, and seeing how much awards love illnesses, I thought maybe it was time to offer people the polio movie they deserve, one that takes an honest look at its subject matter's penis (though we don't actually ever get to see his penis).
The Sessions is about a man with polio named Mark (played by Sean Penn's Skeleton). Illness has wracked Mark's body to the point where his neck is the only part he can move, and he needs Vadar assistance just to breath. Luckily, his inferior state offers him plenty of opportunity to sharpen his wit, which he uses to teach all us normals how good humor can guide us through the most harrowing of experiences. People meet Mark, gain perspective on life, then go home and fuck their significant others.
Mark is a poet and a journalist, and because it's the 1980s that means he can both live outside of a polio people facility, and hire personal assistants to take care of his absolutely everything. He doesn't pay much, but his peculiar perspective will put a smile on your face, and every day you get to go home just glowing with gratitude for your legs.
One day, Mark decides that his current personal assistant, farmed out to him by a coalition of retired Lunch Ladies and female Bus Drivers, is a bit of a bitch. This comes to a head one day when he accidentally ejaculates all over her hand during a sponge bath and instead of saying, "That's okay, you have polio," she shoots him a look of practiced exasperation. So he fires her and hires a really nice girl who does not look like she'll be so irritated with his semen. On top of that, she's super hot. Mark has never seen a hot woman before, so this throws him for a loop.
At first things are really great. The two have a very professional relationship. But soon, as his wit charms her, she starts talking about her personal life more and the problems therein, especially the problems she has with her jerk boyfriend. She even touches his shoulder sometimes when she laughs.
Little does she know, the more she does this, the more he falls in love with her. Because Mark was born so unlucky, he not only has polio, but he lacks any guys around to teach him about the "Friend Zone," which is where most women compartmentalize nice men who have polio or zits.
Once he tells her his feelings, of course, she's off like a prom dress at some other dude's after-party, leaving him in need of a new assistant. He settles for an Asian lady who is hot enough not to offend him, but stern enough to make him afraid of his own boners.
Not that he needs help in that department. See, not only does Mark have polio, but he also believes in God. This means he purposefully limits with arbitrary rules the little he can do. Case in point: after being turned down by the hot assistant he fell in love with, Mark decides Fuck It: I'm a grown up, and I want to have some sex. But before he can, he needs permission from his priest. If the priest says no, he can't go through with it.
Luckily, his priest is an ex-biker (you've seen Old Dogs, right?) who has pretty liberal views on how to simultaneously follow God and stay sane in this fucked up world with its polio and pretty girls who love you but only like a brother.
Mark asks this priest for permission to go get laid before he finally succumbs to Movie Death Syndrome. The priest absolves him of guilt for the act, but only on the condition that he report to the church immediately with every juicy detail. Mark agrees because talking frankly about sex is one talent polio never got a hold of.
So Mark hooks himself up with a sex surrogate, which is a kind of prostitute who only gets it on with cripples. Her name is Cheryl, and she treats her sexual services much like a yoga instructor treats elderly first timers. She's patient and never makes anyone feel bad for accidentally farting. She also makes it very clear up front the professional line she and Mark are not to cross. Namely, she kindly but sternly refuses to tell him anything about herself. Once all this is clear, she takes off her clothes and he has an orgasm just at the sight of her.
They only get six sessions together before she has to start calling herself a prostitute, so one's down already. Luckily, she has a discounted rate for "PE's," as she calls them in her Captain's Log afterwards. During their next session he improves a bit. Instead of having one PE, he has two. By their third session, he's prematurely ejaculating up to six or seven times. He has more sexual appetite and less stamina than Beavis & Butthead and those Y Tu Mamá También boys put together.
As can be expected, Mark falls in love with Cheryl. This includes not only verbal displays of affection, but also a lot of mid-priced jewelry and hand delivered love notes (well, he has his assistant drop a letter in front of Cheryl's door then quickly roll him behind some bushes). What might come as a shock is Cheryl's sudden interest in Mark. She's been with scores of Johns, but this John is the only one to break through her cold, professional heart. Once this develops, Mark stops prematurely ejaculating and they really start getting it on.
But this also means a line has been crossed. How will Cheryl reconcile her feelings for Mark and her professional detachment? Things have gone too far, but if she halts their lovemaking, I might break both of their hearts.
Luckily, the the next time they meet, Mark isn't really interested anymore, opting to spend more time watching television than paying attention to her body. As a tear falls down her cheek, Cheryl realizes that her job is finished. Thanks to her aid, Mark is now a sexually active male.
Sure enough, Mark gets a girlfriend almost immediately. She's cute, and the two have a great chemistry together. It's a really great, emotionally fulfilling ending.
That's not the ending, of course. You can't have a movie about a physically handicapped guy without featuring his funeral. I'm pretty sure the real Mark is still alive out there, but that doesn't do much for me. So far this has been a pretty low-key, frank examination of a horrible illness from a perspective most people don't even consider. That left me with precious little opportunity for naked emotional manipulation, so I had to cram it all into a superfluous second ending. Don't look at me like that. Spielberg did it, too.