This inspiring true story is getting a lot of Oscar talk, mainly for its actors. Taking place in the late 80’s, John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a man who’s kept alive by living in an iron lung. He is also a poet. He spends most of his time being taken care of by various different nurses. He’s quite lonely as he’s never had a girlfriend, but longs for physical intimacy. Not wanting to die a virgin, he seeks the help of a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt). She helps him discover his body sexually, but the two form a bond. They actually end up caring for each other. There’s some other characters too, like a nurse played by Moon Bloodgood and a priest played by William H. Macy, who gives Mark unexpecting advice, considering his line of work.
Despite the frank and honest approach to sexuality, this movie is surprisingly lighthearted. It’s a crowd pleaser. It helps that Mark is such a likable guy. You’re really cheering for this guy to get laid. The relationship between him and Cheryl is touching. But Mark seems to have good relationships with everyone. His friendship with his new nurse, and his honest relationship with the priest are endearing. Even though it can be sad at times (like when Mark is rejected by a nurse early on in the film) it’s quite inspiring. This is the type of movie the Academy loves.
This is an actors movie, and the acting is solid all around. I’ve always been a fan of John Hawkes (ever since FROM DUSK TILL DAWN), and here he gives what could be his big breakout role. Mainstream moviegoers are going to remember him after this. His performance is very believable as Mark is paralyzed. He can’t really move at all. Since he can’t move his body, Hawkes must rely on his vocal fluctuation and facial expressions to give a convincing performance and he delivers. It’s a little cutesy at times (as the character has a quirky sense of humor), but it’ll win most people over. Helen Hunt gives an Oscar-worthy comeback performance as Cheryl. It’s a daring performance as she gets fully nude during several scenes in the movie, and I can’t imagine that’s an easy thing to do, especially at the age of 49 (she looks pretty damn good though). There’s a heartbreaking moment in the film, when Cheryl reacts to a letter and Hunt pulls this off beautifully. The supporting work is also good. I’m normally not a fan, but Bloodgood gives a fun performance as Mark’s meek little nurse. And even though he doesn’t give his best performance, I think moviegoers are going to love William H. Macy.
While the acting and script are great, the direction is merely adequate. Made by the same guy who did THE FAVOUR, THE WATCH AND THE VERY BIG FISH , the filmmaking is pretty standard, like a Television production. It’s not bad, but could’ve been better. But hey, this is an actor’s movie and in that regard it delivers. This has everything an audience wants. A dramatic, inspiring story that can be humorous at times with endearing characters. Don’t let the sexual subject matter turn you off. It’s quite graphic, but never crude as it’s done with class and taste. This is a crowd-pleasing, inspirational story that is sure to be a contender at the Oscars. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue.
– Running time: 1hr 34min.