D: Stacie Passon / 96m
Cast: Robin Weigert, Julie Fain Lawrence, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Maggie Siff, Janel Moloney, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins
A hit at both this year’s Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, Concussion is a drama that looks at lesbian desire from the perspective of Abby (Weigert), 42 years old, in a loving yet loveless relationship with Kate (Lawrence), and who, following a severe concussion, finds a way to regain the sexual passion her life is missing.
Abby and Kate have a son and daughter who are both under ten, a group of close friends they socialise often with, a busy home life, and jobs that require a lot of time and effort from both of them: Kate is a lawyer, while Abby buys, renovates and sells vacant properties. Following her concussion, Abby finds an apartment that she wants to work on with her friend Justin (Tchaikovksy). With her sexual identity becoming stifled by Kate’s inattention, Abby visits a prostitute. The experience is a liberating one but she is unsure if she should pursue things further. She confides in Justin who tells her he knows someone who might be able to help her: his current girlfriend (Kinney) (known only as The Girl). And so, while Kate remains completely unaware, Abby embarks on a personal odyssey as a prostitute, using the apartment as the place for her appointments.
While Concussion is a thought-provoking movie that provides viewers with a well-rounded, intelligent portrait of a middle-aged woman dealing with a personal crisis, it’s also occasionally glib and paints a rather depressing portrait of middle-class suburban lives where wives play games such as “You Should”, and in this milieu at least, the men are only occasionally referred to or seen. This bitter backdrop helps highlight the difficulty Abby has in connecting with Kate: they don’t really communicate with each other. Even when Abby is spending far longer than usual at the apartment, Kate doesn’t suspect anything may be untoward; and equally, Abby carries on as if the two worlds she now inhabits will never overlap. At the movie’s start, Kate is the only one who is indifferent; now it’s Abby too.
Abby’s journey of rediscovery is well-handled, her encounters with a variety of women of all ages, shapes and sizes, painted by writer/director Passon with tenderness, wit and compassion. (One small complaint though: why is it only the young, slim clients that are seen semi-naked?) Each client has their story to tell, and Abby forges relationships with all but one of them, seeing them each several times. Over time she learns that very few relationships work out in the way people expect or want them to, and that her relationship with Kate is far from unusual in its dynamic. As for the sex scenes, Passon highlights the passion and desire inherent in each coupling, and Weigert excels in displaying both her physical and emotional needs throughout.
in fact, Weigert is excellent, by turns vulnerable, aggressive, confident, remorseful, anxious, frustrated, sexy and vital. Lawrence has the more subdued role but proves herself entirely capable of fleshing out her character’s vulnerability and emotional reticence. The rest of the cast make equally vital contributions, and there isn’t a false note to be had. Passon has a keen eye for the quirks and foibles of every day suburban life, and her dialogue is fresh and convincing. She’s a fine director, too, with an equally keen eye for composition and how one scene connects to another.
That said, there are plot contrivances – it’s convenient that Justin’s girlfriend is effectively a madam even though she’s in law school and looks like she’s still in her teens – and it’s a shame that we have another movie where the main characters can’t or won’t talk to each other thereby precipitating the movie’s raison d’être. But Concussion works as a compelling drama exploring one woman’s efforts to reclaim her sexual identity, and more pertinently, how a relationship can maintain an equilibrium despite little or no input from both partners. It’s this relatively under-explored aspect of the movie that resonates the most.
Rating: 8/10 – an absorbing tale that takes an honest, often unflinching approach to female sexuality and one woman’s need to redefine her sexual identity; an indie gem from a writer/director whose future projects will be worth looking out for.