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Monday, October 21, 2013
MOVIE REVIEW Concussion
At 42, Trapped (And Liberated) By Sexual Freedom
Maggie Siff as Sam and Robin Weigert as Abby/"Eleanor" in Stacie Passon's drama
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
"After 40," a female voices intones at the start of Stacie Passon's
thought-provoking debut film "Concussion", "you have to choose between your ass
and your face."
A most crude (and cruel) dilemma preoccupying women of a certain age.
Forty-two-year old lesbian housewife Abby (Robin Weigert) explores both in Ms.
Passon's film, based on a wobbly premise: Abby is hit on the head by a baseball
thrown by her son. (This actually happened to Ms. Passon, also a lesbian.)
The concussive after-effects, like magical pixie dust, have Abby seeking a new
lease on her sex life that includes purchasing a New York City loft for such
encounters as an escape from her Montclair, New Jersey home with her staid,
sexually passionless wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). Abby's new identity, her
double-life one, is as "Eleanor", an escort who has myriad encounters with
younger and older women, some single, others not.
Directed with elegance and a wonderful choreography of bodies in motion conveyed
so artfully and erotically, "Concussion" isn't a film about sex. Nor is it
served up as a mail-order lesbian tryst fantasy for heterosexual men. What
"Concussion" represents is a recalibrating of a woman's mind at a stage in her
life where she's feeling doomed, vulnerable, desperate and so potently alive,
all at once. Ms. Weigert, excellent here (she appeared briefly near the
end of "The
Sessions" last year), conveys intellectual brio and discipline,
driving Abby as a complex figure with such maturity and affirmation you feel for
her so thoroughly. She punctuates the role with sex appeal and
sophistication. The film's funny moments are muted by Abby in several
dead-pan expressions, wry looks and an authentic awkwardness, all of which masks
Abby's anxiousness about the state of her life.
Abby represents any adult whose middle-aged life intersects with the
inevitability that death is creeping closer to them than they'd like, and
"Concussion" illustrates this despite its tricky premise in a cinematic and
intelligent way via David Kruta's fine camerawork. The compartmentalizing
of Abby's life as she talks about the kids, the housework and her health, all
shown in blips edited by Anthony Cupo, is as arresting and stimulating as the
sexual interactions on display, for the mental component visualized is that of an
active mind. And what, after all, is sexier than the mind and all its
imaginations, permutations and boundless potential? "Concussion" so
keenly displays its psychological aspects, and my mind was buzzing excitedly at
the sight of this as much, admittedly, as the baring of female flesh. I
was in awe.
Ms. Passon shows the challenges 21st century relationships undergo but doesn't
make them too cliché nor editorializes. Those challenges haven't changed.
I wish, though, that the baseball beaning episode was nowhere near "Concussion"
because the film is much smarter than the need for a real-life event to intrude.
Ms. Passon's direction and writing are sharp, inventive and shrewd enough. I would have liked more of the very intriguing and
engaging conversation between "Eleanor" and one of her clients, an older woman (Laila
Robbins). We get a brief taste of that interaction, the highlight of
"Concussion", only for it to be overwhelmed by the affair Abby has with the
younger Sam (Maggie Siff).
"Concussion", which has an unmistakable and distinct physical language
throughout, mixes the physical and psychological seamlessly. A physicality
that women share privately and publicly in their interactions and
juxtapositions, illustrated well in Ms. Passon's direction. There's a
merging of the physical and psychological, especially in the spinning classes.
Women and their bodies and shapes on stationary bikes pedaling while their
wheels turn like the wheels of time and the mind. This organic
hybrid of body and mind is a sunny, warmer, more hopeful merger than the
contents of the mere title "A Clockwork Orange".
Abby's sexual adventures aren't for titillation. Though undeniably
arousing they are her own existential affirmation, definition and validation.
Even as her marriage destabilizes, through her encounters Abby gains
control and psychological fulfillment in a sexist world that suggests women have to
"shut up shop" as sexual beings or cosmetically at forty. Kate
perhaps has bought into this. Still, Abby's libidinous
appetite and sexual meetings only reinforce Abby's isolation. Sure, like all
of us Abby has physical needs but those preside more as a metaphor for
reestablishing control of a life that's either slipping from her or trapping
her. Abby's limbo is contained in a tenuous, fleeting box, no pun
intended, one that Kate,
otherwise comfortable in her own space in their loving relationship, has turned a blind
eye to, whether consciously or otherwise.
What's unspoken or implied is that Kate's kids may be a buffer distracting Kate
from any fears and doubts about her marriage to Abby but they are a layer in Kate's life as an upper-middle
class career woman. These add to the complexities of Ms. Passon's very good film,
which sometimes stalls. Abby, whose fears are self-contained except about
age and the younger women in her double-life, seeks self-possession in a life
possessing and closing in on her. More than a baseball hit to the noggin,
Abby's rebellion and release of tension is fueled by her male contractor friend
Justin (a very good Johnathan Tchaikovsky), who prods her into the escort
business and its comic absurdity personified by a 20-something law school
student known as The Girl (Emily Kinney), a blond madam who wouldn't ever have
been a threat to Sydney Biddle Barrows.
As an aside "Concussion" asks whether in a relationship one is entitled to stray
if their partner isn't meeting their sexual needs. Should one communicate,
suffer quietly and hold a private funeral for their sex life? Or should
they party on self-indulgently, marriage or relationship be damned, like it's
1999? These questions will receive varied answers based on religion,
culture, values, upbringing, who you are and what part of the world you live in.
Another observation about "Concussion" is the way it sets up New York City and
New Jersey as dueling entities across the Hudson, one as a live-wired, sexual
paradise, the other as a tranquil domesticated Garden State. Both are
characters of conscience in Abby's mind. New York City is Eleanor and New
Jersey is Abby.
A welcome sight in "Concussion" is its happy medium in depicting lesbians in an
non-stereotyped way. Too often in film or porn we see "types" of lesbian:
the "butch" or the "Playboy pinup" rather than the person or character.
These types often distract, notably if the film these characters types are in
(the feature films, not the pornography) aren't good. As if anticipating a
certain kind of male critical response to her film Ms. Passon astutely shows a
man in "Concussion" expressing curiosity about the sexual exploits of two women.
It's not accidental.
It must be stressed again that Robin Weigert is amazing in "Concussion",
supplying a depth and range to Abby/Eleanor that is sublime, subtle and sexy.
Her performance requires physicality but its engine is her psychological state
of being at the crossroads of life. Directed with sensitivity "Concussion"
lingers as a tasteful exploration of the mind and the body. The film
debuted at Sundance in January and is in a very few select cities including New York,
Los Angeles and San Francisco but is available now on demand.
Also with: Maren Shapero, Micah Shapero, Janel Moloney, Francesca Castagnoli,
Sarah Dubrovsky, Kate Rogal, Funda Duval, Claudine Ohayon, Ben Shenkman, Jane
Peterson, Amanda Guzman, Judd Harner, Ashley-Lin Biel, Daria Rae Feneis, Tracee
Chimo, Mimi Ferraro, Anna George, Cleo Gray, Erika Latta, Anthony Cupo, Holly
Hargrave, Daniel London, Danielle Diamond, Frances Sorenson, Stacey Husschel.
"Concussion" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America
for strong sexual content and some language.
The film's running time is one hour and 36 minutes.
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