Stacie Passon’s Concussion starts with David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” and concludes with Brian Eno’s “Some of Them Are Old”—possibly the two savviest music choices I’ve encountered this year. (Any time anyone recognizes that Bowie wrote something other than “Queen Bitch” these days is in itself refreshing.) In between those two splendidly judged songs lies one of this year’s most intriguing and unusual dramas—that it is also a movie being given the Weinsteinian bum’s rush of a release and will be little seen is a great pity. At the same time, the film presents something of a marketing dilemma. While the main character is one half of a lesbian couple and all of the extramarital encounters are same sex ones, Concussion isn’t really a gay-themed film. That the couple are lesbians has little to do with it. Their sexuality is simply a given—no issue is made of it—and the story would work just as well with two a straight couple or two gay men.
The story feels a good bit like a re-purposed variation on Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1968), about a bored young housewife (Catherine Deneuve) who embarks on a sideline as a prostitute. But Passon’s film is different in several significant ways—not the least of which is that her heroine, Abby (TV actress Robin Weigert), is a 42-year-old caught up in a kind of mid-life crisis. Also, Bunuel was interested in the fantasy side of things, while Passon has made a film that is startling in its very realism. Abby—who adopts the hooker name Eleanor—is in a generally solid relationship that has simply gone stale. While she clearly gets a little too addicted to her Eleanor outings, she never stops thinking of herself as a wife and mother.
Concussion also hasn’t all that much to do with the concussion of its title—something caused when Abby is hit in the head with a baseball. This mostly acts as the catalyst to making her start questioning if there isn’t more to life than what she’s experiencing. What follows is a little contrived, yes. It just happens that the guy she’s refurbishing a loft with, Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovsky—yeah, that seems to be his name), has a girlfriend (Emily Kinney) who is a kind of pimp. It’s therefore easy for him to hook her up with a pricey ($800) call girl as a one time deal, but it also (somewhat conveniently) leads to Abby being offered the chance to dabble in the world’s oldest profession herself. A little too easy, perhaps, but it works reasonably in the context of the film.
What follows is pleasantly different from what we may expect—partly because it only becomes slowly apparent that Abby’s “other life” is causing a strain on her marital relationship with Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). Indeed, it’s only her reticence about selling the refurbished loft that arouses Kate’s suspicion that things are not what they seem. But more, it’s because her encounters with various customers are nicely defined—or at least sketched in—and without leading to any easy moving away from Kate. Possibly, the best of the film’s choices lies in the way it doesn’t handle the situation that arises when one of Abby’s clients, Sam (TV actress Maggie Siff), turns out to be someone from her “real” life. The film doesn’t use that encounter for any melodrama.
In fact, Concussion eschews melodrama at every turn, which is both its great strength and its biggest drawback. In being more like life—there is no big blow-up here—the film may be seen as lacking in drama. It isn’t, but the drama is so internal that it will seem to be missing to some. I also think the film will find a hard time resonating with younger audiences. I cannot imagine that its ultimate sense of “life goes on”—which gets awfully close to resignation and the idea that we persist by distracting ourselves—will register with folks who haven’t been there. I could be wrong. But the fact is that for those of us who have been through anything like this, the film can be pretty darn penetrating—if maybe a little too real. The interested should make haste, because I don’t see this playing beyond the week. Rated R for strong sexual content and some language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas