This is a remarkable hidden gem of a movie directed with grace and understatement by Ben Lewin, a 67 year old director whose career has little in the way of highlights or recognition. Until now that is.
His main protagonists, John Hawkes who was Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone, Helen Hunt (who won one for As Good as it Gets) and William H Macy (Fargo nomination) tell a story as touching as any you will ever see that tries to make sense of whether sex out of wedlock as a (disabled) Catholic can be tolerated by those of great faith.
The good news? It can.
What makes this trio of understated performances so remarkable is that they are all so extreme, yet constrained.
Firstly, John Hawkes (Mark) plays a 38 year old quadriplegic (a consequence of childhood polio), with a fine sense of humour, who lives 21 hours a day in an iron lung and desires nothing more than to have full penetrative sex and yet does not turn the role into a freakshow.
Secondly, Helen Hunt spends much of the movie completely naked (as brave as it gets at 49) teaching Mark how to suck her nipples effectively, perform passable cunnilingus and generally satisfy her and himself – she’s a sex therapist.
And thirdly, William H Macy plays a cool dude Catholic priest that assumes the role of God, granting Mark the dispensation to get his rocks off free from the guilt of mortal sin.
What’s more, the supporting cast all put in excellent and mostly touching shifts that add to the overall quality of the movie.
It’s in places hilarious (although Seth MacFarlane would hardly agree), breathtakingly taboo (without offending anyone – including the four pensioners sat behind us) and moving.
What makes it work so wonderfully is what it doesn’t do or say. Whilst issues surrounding morality must sit full square at the centre of the (based on true) story it’s not hammered home. It makes no judgement and that’s in no small part down to the skill of director Lewin.
Very few people have seen this movie, more’s the pity, and the screening we saw was achingly badly attended. Nonetheless it cost only $1m to make and grossed a modest (but profitable) $5m in the US. I think it’s a sleeper of potentially Sideways proportions that will, over time, make the funders very large returns as its absolute honesty and sincerity wins it advocates like me.
Anne Hathaway is unbettable for Best Supporting actress at this year’s big hooley and she is by a distance the best thing about Les Miserables, but it’s a cameo role. This, on the other hand, is a career defining moment for Hunt who would win every day in my book. And I may indeed have a small wager on her at 25/1.