LET'S GET THIS out of the way: Helen Hunt is looking good. Through some triumph of science or magic, she's walking around in the body of an unusually fit 20-year-old. But she's still got the face of a Helen Hunt, which is why she's perfectly cast as a sex surrogate in The Sessions: She wields her body with the matter-of-fact assurance of a mature professional practicing her craft.
Hunt plays Cheryl, who's been hired to indoctrinate paralyzed writer Mark (John Hawkes) in the ways of S-E-X. Mark contracted polio as a kid, and the iron lung has seriously hindered his game—so after realizing that other disabled people still manage to have sex lives, he contacts Cheryl to figure out just what kind of experiences his paralyzed body is capable of having. Cheryl isn't a prostitute; she approaches her job with a therapist's discipline, guiding 38-year-old Mark through the first sexual experiences of life.
Director Ben Lewin coaxes brilliant performances out of Hawkes and Hunt (which maybe wasn't hard, considering how good both of them are to begin with). Mark is bright and acerbic, his inner steeliness only revealed when he's typing out love poems using a stick held between his teeth; Cheryl sheds her professional distance in near-imperceptible increments.
The Sessions is bound to be over praised: It does have its weaknesses, notably underdeveloped supporting characters (William H. Macy doesn't have much to do as a timid liberal priest) and an odd side-plot about Cheryl's conversion to Judaism. But Hunt and Hawkes are so damn good, and the scenes between the two of them so rich in awkward, funny, premature ejaculate-y tenderness, that the strengths of this odd little true story far outweigh its imperfections.