Concussion is a film that immerses us in the everyday and mundane, until after a series of questionable decisions by an unsteady main character, we suddenly find ourselves observing an outlandish situation. But this is not in the service of a suspense film as you might assume—the debut film by Stacey Passon explores the intersections of sexuality with both emotional commitment and risk.
Robin Weigert plays Abby, the younger half of a lesbian couple, living with her divorce lawyer partner and their two kids. She likes to fix up and then resell nice apartments in New York, and she enjoys hanging out with her witty friends and being a soccer mom. But an accidental blow to the head somehow becomes a signal to her of growing disappointment and yearning for something more passionate than her long-term partner Kate seems able to provide.
First she goes to a prostitute—that doesn’t work out. Then her friend Justin, a real estate fixer-upper, connects her with a very expensive call girl. This encounter does the trick. What happens next is rather startling, and the audience will have to catch up on the reasons later—Justin mentions the possibility of Abby turning expensive tricks herself, with her appeal being that of the older, experienced woman. Surprisingly, Abby says yes, and her enthusiasm for this new profession becomes obsessive and eventually out of control.
I can imagine this movie getting attention as a lesbian sex film, which would be unfortunate. Yes, there’s a lot of sex, but the focus is on the extreme mental state of a character rather than erotica. And the fact that she’s a lesbian is not the point either—Abby’s sexual orientation is thankfully just taken for granted as part of the story structure. The point of view is suitably complex. The importance and necessity of sexual fulfillment is too often glossed over in the movies, despite all the sex in them, especially for women characters. Here there’s a genuine process of self-discovery involved. At the same time there’s a process akin to addiction. Abby just wants more, although emotionally there starts to be diminishing returns. If there’s a weakness here, it’s in the portrayal of Kate, the partner, played by Julie Fain Lawrence. It’s clear that there’s warmth and stability in the relationship, but Kate as a character is not quite fleshed out. This is, after all, a first effort by the writer-director Stacie Passon, and despite minor weaknesses it’s a surprisingly good and interesting work.
I was already familiar with the lead actress, Robin Weigert, because she played Calamity Jane in Deadwood, in my opinion one of the best TV series ever. She was great in that, but here of course she gets to play someone more nuanced, and in a modern setting, and she is such an interesting performer that one always feels sympathy and involvement with Abby despite some of her choices. Concussion allows us to explore the developing and conflicting motivations of its main character, just as she is doing the same herself within the story, and the result is unsettling and ultimately moving.