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Concussion Review: Warning, Head Trauma May Lead To Lesbianic Prostitution

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 4, 2013 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 4, 2013 |

There are many possible signs and symptoms of a concussion, the onset of which in some instances may be hours or days after the original injury. These symptoms include, among other things:

Somatic Symptoms, Such as Headache

Concussion does not waste any time. It begins with a credit sequence that is voice-overed by conversation snippets from a spin class wherein the women talk about things like how, “after forty years, you have to choose between your ass and your face.” We then jump immediately to the post-trauma of the event that gives the film its title — Abby (Robin Weigert) has been beaned in the head with a baseball by her son. There’s a lot of blood, which is why her wife of six years, Kate (Julia Fain Lawrence), is rushing her to the hospital. All is well of course, and the family heads to their lovely, suburban New York home where Abby and Kate appear to have a strong and loving relationship.

Behavioral Symptoms, Such as Irritability and Personality Changes

Quickly, however, we begin to see some cracks in Abby and Kate’s relationship, particularly when it comes to their passion. This is something suffered by many a relationship, of course, where both partners work while trying to raise two children and deal with everything else life throws their way. While Abby begins to show the physical signs of her concussion, like a treadmill run leading to vomitus, it’s the behavioral symptoms that make those cracks in her relationship begin to look like chasms. Things start subtly enough — seeing a loving lesbian couple causes her to suddenly put on lipstick, seeking out some strange to compensate for what she’s not getting at home — but quickly escalate to the movie’s main plot point, which is that Abby becomes a high-end lesbian escort, working out of one of the New York apartments she’s renovating.

As Abby’s “madam” (a college-age girl who goes by “the Girl”) puts it, Abby is “hot dyke housewife,” the solution to a “more mature situation” that a lot of younger women are looking for. And so the film follows Abby’s escapades, with a capital L for “lots of lesbian sex.” Of course, her new job is as much about the mental and emotional as it is the physical, and it invariably results in a psychological exploration of an injury-caused mid-life crisis and an attempt to fix a relationship without actually dealing with the relationship.

Cognitive Symptoms, Such as Confusion, Slurred Speech and Concentration Issues

Concussion is a movie that the feminist and liberal in me desperately wants to love. It’s from a new female writer/director (Stacie Passon), it’s got a ridiculously good female cast, it treats lesbian relationships in a realistic and non-lascivious way, and it presents a story that is something more than “I needs to find my man,” passing the Bechdel test ten times over. Try though I might, I just couldn’t love it because, unfortunately, Concussion is kind of a mess.

None of this is Passon’s fault as a director. While this is only her first film, the direction is subtle to the point that it could be perceived as simple. But it’s not simple. Passon shows a subtle restraint — she is not simply holding a camera and saying “go,” but she stays out of the way, allowing the actors and the story to do the work. So from a technical “movie making” view, the film works. Unfortunately, when a director gets out of the way of her script, that script better hold up, and here is where Passon drops the ball. It’s not that the script is bad, mind you — the dialogue is good, and the story certainly interesting enough. It’s just that the pieces don’t quite add up. There are weird tonal shifts between some of the scenes that I think are meant to break up the overall tension and seriousness of the film, but wind up just breaking up the flow. There are some character relationships that are either not explained or not explored, and appear more to simply be tools for the plot to move forward or for certain snippets of dialogue to be said. And Abby’s journey doesn’t quite work as the concussion is too easy of an excuse, and one that is not subsequently explored much. I totally dig what Passon is going for her, primarily an exploration of an “older” woman’s sexuality — and while it happens that Abby is a lesbian, it’s not about her being a lesbian; rather, that just allows Passon to easily broaden the exploration of Abby’s sexuality to one of, more generally, female sexuality. And while some of this exploration and the resultant observations are good (or even great — my favorite line of the movie, between a couple having a fight over fidelity, is the sharply observant “so I only belong to you, and you don’t want me”), it just doesn’t come together the way one would hope.

Physical Symptoms, Such as Loss of Consciousness, Amnesia, Dizziness, Nausea and Ringing in the Ears

That being said, it’s still a wholly watchable and sometimes enjoyable film. Because Robin Weigert, god bless, kills it. Most of the rest of the cast is similarly great, from the always good Maggie Siff to the where-you-been Janel Moloney, but this is Weigert’s film, and one she has been long overdue for. Perhaps best known to many around these parts as “Deadwood’s” Calamity Jane, Weigert often seems to get pushed aside to character roles and bit parts, but this woman has acting chops and knows how to use ‘em. She flows effortlessly through very complex scenes with her varied clientele, and then slides right back into the role of doting and loving wife when Abby returns home. And she does it without making it look like Abby is pretending; that is, you believe that Abby truly comes home as a loving and doting wife, she simply is trying to figure out some emotional and sexual things that her wife is not able or willing to help her work through.

The author of this review is not a doctor. He’s a half-assed attorney and a quarter-assed film critic. None of the above should be taken as medical advice. Side effects of reading this review include vomitus, watching reruns of MTV’s “I Just Want My Pants Back” and General Apathy (but hopefully not Major Boredom).

The Weinstein Company bought the movie rights to Concussion at Sundance and, well, good luck with that Harvey, because this is a film that it going to be impossible to successfully market. …Although I might suggest a name change to Lesbian Prostitute — while the implications would be deceptive, it would at least get some asses in the seats. And, in any event, it’s one with a rather limited draw, given that most movie viewers are not going to be drawn to seek out a decent film about middle age women’s sexuality. But at the very least, maybe we’ll get one of those sickingly obnoxious Oscar pushes that the Weinsteins love so much for Weigert next year. I could totally get behind that.

Concussion premiered at Sundance 2013.

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.