Polished visuals, strong performances, and an ending that leaves you with a lot to chew on after leaving the theater.
A moody, sexy drama with bursts of black comedy sprinkled throughout, Concussion takes familiar themes–infidelity, complacency, mid-life anxiety–and explores them from the fresh perspective of a fascinating (if a little unsympathetic) protagonist, a lesbian suburban housewife named Abby (Robin Weigert). Writer-director Stacie Passon’s debut feature is an accomplished first statement, with polished visuals, strong performances, and an ending that leaves you with a lot to chew on after leaving the theater.
After getting beaned in the head by a softball flung at her (inadvertently) by her son, Abby is driven to the hospital by her wife (Julie Fain Lawrence) when she’s hit again, this time by an epiphany. She squeals, “I don’t want this. I don’t want it” as tears and blood stream down her face. Living the lackadaisical life of a stay-at-home mom has finally broken her down, and it’s this moment of minivan mom misery that eventually drives her to lead a second life as a hooker, awakening a sex-hungry other side of her that she’s never met, or at least hasn’t seen in a very long time.
While renovating a loft in Manhattan with her muscly, straight man-friend, Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovsky), Abby confesses her interest in employing the services of prostitutes. Justin, a sleazeball dunderhead (but a friendly one), has the bright idea to have her become a hooker herself–she’ll get the sex she craves, (things are running a little dry with the wifey) and she’ll get paid for it.
In the film’s slightly bloated middle section, Abby (who goes by Eleanor on the job) meets several female clients, some young, some old, and has curious, often hilarious interactions with all of them (along with, of course, soft-core sexual relations). Weigert gets a lot to do here, as she interacts with each client in a different way. She gets to be a prowling temptress, a helpless victim, and even a nurturing mother figure, to a young, shy college student to whom she provides sexual guidance. Each meeting with the clients helps to flesh out Abby as a character, but as a whole, these trysts ultimately feel like one big showcase for Weigert’s immense talent.
Passon’s tale of housewife turned hooker shares elements with other films that explore prostitution, (above all, Belle de Jour comes to mind) but together, Passon and Weigert have created a unique character in Abby, whose mystique and tortured allure make her plight more magnetic on screen than it is on paper. Weigert expresses such raw emotion and longing with her face and body language it’s startling; early in the film (pre-Eleanor), when she’s touched by a beautiful prostitute she’s hired for herself (the gorgeous Maggie Siff), she’s so balled up with sexual anticipation and anxiety that her body locks up, stiff as a board, and her face glitches out in an attempt to wrangle the zillion emotions bursting inside her. Passon captures intimacy and sexuality on camera so well that the intensity borders on nail-biting.
The Manhattan loft out of which Abby runs her business is a character in itself, gradually evolving from empty, white box to lavishly decorated modern nook, symbolizing Abby’s quest for self. Passon and DP David Kruta are aggressively atypical with their compositions and colors, framing things from unexpected angles and overwhelming the screen with evocative monotones. Visually, Passon lays the story out beautifully. At home in suburbia, Abby’s an empty shell, captured in a wonderful shot of her sitting on a bed next to a mushroom cloud of laundry, despair and gloom drowning the room. In the apartment, she’s a sexual and spiritual adventurer, discovering bits of herself as she and her clients explore every inch of each other. Which life is best for Abby? Thankfully, Passon lets us decide.