By my highly scientific calculations, there have been approximately eleventy billion movies made about people seeking solace from their loveless marriages by throwing themselves into affairs. Concussion narrowly drags itself out of that pack to become something more memorable, and not just by being about a lesbian marriage, but by casting a more unique perspective on the intricacies of its main character’s motivations. Really, though, it’s Robin Weigert playing that main character who saves the film.
Weigert is Abby, a housewife whose existence is tranquil, stable, and entirely flaccid. She loves her kids, but she needs more breaks from them. She loves her wife, Kate (Julie Lawrence), but Kate won’t touch her. She likes to maintain her house, but she’s grown weary of it. And then an all-things-considered mild concussion, courtesy of a stray baseball thrown by her son, acts as the impetus for a dramatic change. She goes back to work flipping houses. Then she seeks out the company of prostitutes with the help of her friend / business partner Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), who later encourages her to become a prostitute.
Soon Abby, going by the alias “Eleanor” is acting as a most unusual escort, insisting on meeting her clients for coffee before inviting them into the loft she’s fixing up. She acts not just as their sex partner but as an emotional conduit. Abby isn’t just seeking the usual things cheating hearts in cinema are seeking. She doesn’t just want something new – she very purposefully goes after what she’s missing at home, which is more than just sexual exhilaration.
Weigert is one of America’s most overlooked actresses, and this is a tremendous showcase for her talent. Abby is undergoing a sort of existential concussion, half wandering / half striding into strange, possibly hazardous territory. Since she holds her cards close to her chest, all the hints as to what’s going on inside have to be read in Weigert’s subtleties. It’s a low-key performance that contains a simmering broil of goosebump-raising emotion.
The movie is full of lesbian sex, but without being lurid or exploitative (which makes sense, given that a gay woman penned and directed it). Nonetheless, Abby’s many encounters pulsate with eroticism, even as the camera generally turns away from anything too explicit (which, from what I’ve read, makes this film diametrically opposed to Blue is the Warmest Colour). David Cruta’s cinematography is stark, focusing mainly on whites, especially in the pristine walls of Abby’s renovated apartment. The sterile feeling both enhances the concussion effect and acts as a great backdrop for the sexual energy radiating from the story.
That story, though, is where Concussion falters. After a certain point, any sense of forward momentum peters off, and the plot doesn’t come build to a conclusion so much as it sort of shrugs into a stop, wrapping things up rather abruptly. It’s clearly intentional on the part of the filmmakers, and I see where they were coming from with it. It’s the antithesis of The Kids Are All Right, which followed a more conventional revelation-yelling-apologies-reconciliations format. Writer/director Stacie Passon is saying something about how adults work things out when they’ve settled into a groove that’s unwittingly become a rut. It still felt like it could have packed more of a punch.
Unless this turns out to be an unusually progressive year (Which it could! Let’s see how the Supreme Court rules on DOMA and Prop 8 and such), Concussion will face an uphill battle to be seen. Gay films have a tough time breaking into the mainstream, and a movie with such frank depictions of women getting sexual pleasure will have an even tougher time. But Weigert will probably be getting a lot of attention come this year’s awards season, and she’ll fully deserve all of it. She helps make this usual type of tale unusual.