For a film that opens on a bloody head wound and proceeds to follow a wife turned escort, Concussion settles in as a rather benign drama that isn’t as impactful as the knock to the noggin that inspires its title. The story of a suburbanite unhappy in marriage is certainly nothing new. Neither is the notion that a bored, frustrated housewife would step out on her distant spouse to experience sexual thrills. That this housewife happens to be married to another woman is a wrinkle, but one that is refreshingly presented as simple fact instead of overstated plot point. First time feature writer-director Stacie Passon shows an eye and ear for authenticity, and while Concussion is identifiable it also relies too heavily on obvious metaphors that, while not belabored, are too present to ignore.
The recipient of the blow to the head is Abby (Robin Weigert), who lives a comfortable and schedule-driven existence with wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) in the New Jersey ‘burbs. Kate is the breadwinner while Abby minds the household and chauffeurs their two kids to and from school. It seems a baseball to the temple shakes something loose, igniting Abby’s desire for fulfillment. She goes back to her design work, purchasing a Manhattan loft to refurbish and flip. Her creative renaissance coincides with sexual desires that lead her to a prostitute. Abby’s contractor partner Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky) happens to be dating a law student turned madam, who suggests that Abby would make a good working girl. Abby goes along with the idea and is set up with a string of women seeking connection.
It’s hard not to connect Abby’s sexual awakening with her constantly evolving and improving apartment. What started as a raw space full of holes in the walls and stains on the floor is refreshed as Abby becomes more and more comfortable in her new vocation. Passon avoids comparisons of structural and emotional restoration that are too on-the-nose, though it’s difficult to discount the correlation as Abby lies naked on her bed – the completed loft’s centerpiece – tangled in lily-white sheets. More transparent are the images of suburbia in the first act, which include Abby running in place on a treadmill until she literally gets sick, or sitting next to a mountain of laundry with a wistful stare.
When Concussion works, it’s Passon’s script and Weigert’s performance that keep Abby grounded in a reality that sidesteps melodrama in favor of a consistent seductive swagger, never lingering too long on euphoria or despair. Weigert displays a confidence that allows us to buy Abby as equal parts hired lover and psychotherapist. Situations that border on outrageous – loaning out a copy of The Second Sex to a virginal client or coaxing an older introvert out of her shell – feel natural. Rough but pleasurable encounters with fellow neighborhood hottie Sam (Maggie Siff) make for an interesting meeting at the grocery store that is believably awkward and anticipative at the same time.
Concussion is smart in its representations of the tenuous balance between mid-life obligations and yearnings, and smart enough to know there isn’t a clean and clear path to achieving the perfect mix. But the approach is cold and calculated, leaving us feeling a bit too much like the film’s wayward protagonist.