On the surface, Abby has it all: a beautiful, hugely successful wife, Kate, two children, a large house in the suburbs, and time during the day to fit in a spinning session or yoga class or have coffee with some of the other mothers in her small New Jersey town. One day, however, playing in the park with her children, her son throws a baseball at her head; there’s blood everywhere and Abby momentarily loses consciousness.
The film’s title – Concussion – suggests that the choices Abby makes stem from this incident. Yet, bar the odd trip to the hospital for a check-up, or comment on her scar, Abby’s injury is rarely mentioned. That it was introduced at the start and yet never woven satisfactorily into the story is one of a number of issues I had with what is actually an enjoyable first film from writer-director Stacie Passon.
Whether or not Abby’s actions result from the blow to her head, or whether her discontent has been bubbling away for a while, everything happens remarkably quickly, threatening to stretch the bounds of credulity. Abby wants to go back to work, so she buys a Manhattan loft and starts doing it up with her contractor, Justin. Abby and Kate haven’t had sex in a long time, and Abby is frustrated when her overtures are rebuffed. So she decides to pay someone else for it. When the escort she hires tells Abby that there was no need for her to make her come, and that perhaps she herself should think about becoming an escort, Abby immediately jumps at the idea. After all, she now conveniently has a Manhattan apartment where she can carry out these liaisons. Conveniently, contractor Justin is dating a law student who has a nice little business running girls on the side and can set Abby up on her own.
Luckily, Robin Weigert is superb as Abby, and manages to make the remarkable sequence of events almost believable, or at least stops you from noticing them. Abby is a complicated character, yet Weigert captures both her intricacies and her contradictions: she’s vulnerable and lost, she desperately wants to be strong and in control, yet also to abandon herself and forget about her middle-class life. There’s a real sense that she doesn’t know who she is anymore and that her meetings with the women who are paying her $800 for sex offer her the chance to assume a number of different roles.
This is where Concussion is particularly strong, in its portrayal of the breadth and depth of female friendships and relationships. With each of her clients, the sex is different, the power balance is different, what they talk about is different, and what Abby and her client gain from their time in bed is different. Sometimes Abby becomes more of a maternal figure; sometimes it’s purely physical; with some women what they talk about is more important. The sex with some is gentle, with others it’s rough, verging on violent. But what Abby takes from each of these encounters is a sense of connection with another woman, something that’s currently lacking in her marriage. It also raises the interesting question of what constitutes cheating: is it purely the sexual relationships that Abby has with these women that we would define as her cheating on Kate, or is it their conversations and the other things that they share? What about when they stop having sex and just exist together in the space Abby has created?
The film could have been stronger if Passon had been inclined to explore one or two of the clients’ stories a bit further. There is only one woman whom Abby entertains who is older than she is. There are hints that this pushes her beyond her comfort zone, but this is frustratingly little. Abby also starts sleeping with Sam, another mother from her town whom we know she has a crush on. You would think that the dramatic collision between the two worlds that Abby is desperately trying to keep separate would throw her, or perhaps lead her to examine her feelings given that she has started sleeping with someone she fancies – might she move into having a single affair rather than a series of trysts; if so how would that affect her and her relationship with Kate? – but very little seems to happen between them; something that seems unlikely when feelings are involved.
Some critics have complained that Concussion glorifies or excuses prostitution, but I don’t think the film does that at all. In fact, it’s not about prostitution or being an escort. It’s about what happens when you’ve been with someone for years and your relationship has changed. Some have said this is a film about ‘lesbian bed death’, but it doesn’t matter whether a couple who have been together for years are gay or straight, male or female; it’s about what happens when routine sets in, when what was once exciting becomes commonplace, when a couple have different sexual appetites. Abby doesn’t want her marriage to end, but, surrounded by piles of laundry and the shopping to do, rarely seeing her working wife and not being physically or even emotionally intimate with her, it could be argued that she does what she needs to keep her marriage together.
Concussion is frequently a frustrating film. When Kate finds out what Abby’s been up to there’s no real discussion, no denouement; it’s as though Abby just returns to her old life without the two of them talking about it. Will anything between them change? We don’t know if Abby has discovered the answers to her questions, or whether she was ever really asking any questions; perhaps she just wanted to let go.
Despite all this, however, Concussion is a very watchable film, with Weigert at its centre. Passon has a good eye, both for interiors (there’s a fair amount of real estate porn) and for shots which wordlessly describe the mundanity of Abby’s existence. I found it interesting that, even though Abby’s escaping her suburban life in a Manhattan loft, the colour scheme in both properties is the same, that both are neat and clean and, even though she is using the loft to escape, there’s a sense that she’s still trapped. This, combined with the sense that Abby doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants, and isn’t sure whether she wants to find out, is what makes Concussion something different from just another film about a relationship in crisis.