‘The Sessions’ kicks off Oscar campaign with strong showing at TIFF

The Sessions” screened at the Toronto filmfest Sunday and received a rousing reception. A hit at Sundance, this Fox Searchlight comedy drama showcases one-time Oscar nominee John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone,” 2010) as real-life poet Mark O’Brien, confined to life in an iron lung after contracting polio.

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Director Ben Lewin, who also had polio, came across O’Brien’s wry recount of hiring sex surrogate  Cheryl Cohen Greene. He decided to adapt it for a film and cast 1998 Best Actress winner Helen Hunt (“As Good As It Gets”) as Greene. It is a meaty role and, as Pete Hammond (Deadline) reports, “The studio is still trying to determine whether to push Hunt for lead or supporting.”

And William H. Macy (“Fargo,” 1996) could reap his second supporting actor nod for his role as a sympathetic priest who counsels O’Brien. The scenes between the two played like gangbusters in Toronto. As Hunt revealed in the Q&A, Lewin called her during filming to tell her that they were making a comedy.

Lewin’s screenplay, which has many heartwarming moments as well, is also a strong possibilty for a bid. The life of O’Brien was already the basis of the 1996 Oscar-winning short “Breathing Lessons.” 

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