When I first received info about The Sundance Film Festival last year, there was a movie description that sounded like an Onion parody of the festival: a Bay Area man in an iron lung wants to lose his virginity before he dies and hires a sexual surrogate to make that happen. It was called “The Surrogate.” Then the buzz came: John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”) makes the movie in the lead role. Helen Hunt bares all as the surrogate. Crowds laughing and crying. Having seen the film, I can say that Hawkes is a shoe-in for a best actor Oscar nomination. No question. No money risked in betting. I am not a viewer that likes my emotions manipulated, so although the film, now retitled “The Sessions,” is a crowd-pleaser, i didn’t join in on the group weep at the end. Maybe I just wasn’t going to give the movie the satisfaction. So I’m not with those that say Hunt will get an Oscar nom, or that the movie is unquestionably bound for a best picture or best adapted screenplay nod (it’s based on a personal essay by poet and polio survivor Mark O’Brien), but Hawkes excels at the kind of role that earned Daniel Day Lewis an Oscar in “My Left Foot” in 1990.
Teen surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) lost her arm in a shark attack in 2003. This overly earnest story dramatizes the shocking moment, then follows her courageous return to competitive sports. The tale also features Carrie Underwood (making her movie debut) in a bland role as a church youth-group leader. The sincere message — perseverance is essential when faced with life’s setbacks — is a good one, but the movie is a bit of a chore to watch