The sexually charged lesbian drama Concussion comes with a solid premise (one cribbed almost directly from Bunuel’s Belle de Jour), but little sense of focus or any interesting tension. The performances are fine, and there’s a lot to like about the film in individual moments, but the viewer and the story itself are both left wanting overall.
42 year old housewife Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) has grown increasingly bored with her home life. Her wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) has lost any sexual desire, and Abby seems to think her life has only become about her two kids and her property flipping business in the city. After an encounter with a prostitute she pays for, Abby thinks she can start doing the world’s oldest profession on her own. With the help of her ex-swinger handyman friend (Jonathan Tchaikovsky) and his college aged pimp girlfriend (Emily Kinney), Abby begins servicing clients (all women, usually younger) and starts to both give and receive the affection she so desperately craves to have with her own wife.
First time writer and director Stacie Passon has certainly taken a premise that’s on the right track, but right out of the gate something feels amiss. Diving headlong into the malaise that exists between Abby and Kate makes the former seem selfish and the latter seem shallow. Neither character should feel like a mere sketch since the film hinges on the friction between the two, but outside of feeling like two lines that once intersected that will never meet again, there’s not a heck of a lot to go on. Even their children feel like tokens that are just there to be trotted out whenever Passon has to show a reason for Abby and Kate to still be together in the first place. And it never comes across as a good or valid reason.
It’s very much a choppily paced film, bearing many of the shorthanded marks of an uncertain first time feature filmmaker. Things are more readily explained in montage, moments of supposed tension between the leading couple are purposefully banal instead of ever tipping towards anything of substance, and towards then end there’s a particularly groan worthy and obvious speech about “the illusion of choice” that feels like someone who doesn’t believe the audience will immediately understand the message of the film. I guess the speech does work because the message isn’t very obvious to begin with.
Furthermore, the film’s very title seems to be harkening back to its own opening scene where Abby has been beaned in the head with a ball thrown by her son. The film’s lack of focus in this respect is a bit like a concussion, and the device feels like a bit of tacked on misdirection. The whole premise could just be chalked up to an obvious midlife crisis instead of a plot device that isn’t going to really pan out, and it gives the wrong message for everything else to come. It seems more like an excuse for Abby’s selfishness than a fully formed idea.
But Passon does have a few things going in her favour. Whenever the film isn’t in the city with Abby and her clients, there’s a lot of great subtle humour coming from the dullness and cattiness of the people who are all settling for better lives; only content to constantly drone on and on about the good old days when they were wild and free. Also, the film’s sex feels decidedly workman like, in a bold move that allows almost all of the decidedly non-graphic encounters feel drably like the sex one would likely get when they would just pay someone to get them off. It makes the one moment when Abby has to actually feel something close to affection and desire all the more powerful and poignant in comparison.
That sense of affection comes from the unexpected arrival of a bisexual and equally frustrated housewife from her town, Sam, played wonderfully by Maggie Siff. It’s a relationship that’s better fleshed out than the one between Abby and Kate, which might be the point, but when the film’s ultimate MacGuffin turns out to be more interesting than the central relationship, it’s a sign that things aren’t going very well.
It’s always watchable thanks to Weigert, though. As Abby she strikes the perfect blend of book smarts and shyness throughout, and she lends a lot of depth to the character that doesn’t come across very well in the script. If Passon had given everyone a bit more to do at the start and a bit less to do at the end, there would be some balance to Concussion, but it’s Weigert who’s working harder to right the ship than the director.