“Here’s to the girls who play wife
Aren’t they too much?
Keeping house but clutching a copy of Life
Just to keep in touch.
The ones who follow the rules
And meet themselves at the schools
Too busy to know that they’re fools
Aren’t they a gem?
I’ll drink to them!” – “Ladies Who Lunch,” Stephen Sondheim
Over the last few decades, advocates for marriage equality have made the case that same-sex couples deserve all the rights and privileges of matrimony that heterosexuals enjoy. It’s an argument that’s been raised through punditry, through activism, and through individuals and families leading their lives openly in their communities.
While “Concussion” is in no way a polemic on the subject, writer-director Stacie Passon takes a more radical tack in portraying equivalence, suggesting that a woman married to another woman can be just as bored and frustrated and unfulfilled in her relationship as a woman married to a man.
Abby (Robin Weigert, “Deadwood”) would seem to have a comfortable existence — spacious home in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, devoted, hard-working lawyer wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) paying the bills, two adorable kids in grammar school, and days free to devote herself to spin class and home improvement and carpools and shopping in the local market.
After one of her kids beans her in the head with a baseball, however, it opens the floodgates of Abby’s discontent, and she announces she’s going back to work as an interior designer, purchasing a run-down Manhattan loft for renovation. The revival of her creative urges soon leads to the blossoming of her more carnal ones, so Abby hires a comely prostitute. (Her male contractor’s girlfriend happens to be a pimp-cum-law-student.)
The experience inspires Abby to become a working girl herself, using the ever-improving apartment as a base of operations. She does things her own way, however; Abby maintains veto power over her potential customers, she’ll only work with other women, and she won’t go to bed with them until she can suss them out over coffee first.
Abby’s attributes for the job go beyond the obvious ones; besides her physical talents, she offers her clients a maternal sort of kindness and bolsters their esteem with feminist fervor. (This may be the only movie where a sex worker presses a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” on one of her johns. Or in this case, janes.)
First-timer Passon creates characters so grounded and believable that we willingly follow along even as the situations grow more and more outrageous. The film never condones or condemns sex work per se, but it uses it as a way to take Abby on her journey, one that feels organic and honest.
“Concussion” isn’t the sort of film to brandish its references to other movies, but it’s hard not to think about “Last Tango in Paris,” “The Stepford Wives,” “Belle de Jour” and “Jeanne Dielmann” as we experience Abby’s spiritual and sensual reawakening. (I was also reminded of Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” while watching Abby awkwardly attempt, on more than one occasion, to read a book while vacuuming.)
Lest you worry that the renovation of the apartment is going to be an obvious metaphor for the lead character’s renaissance, Passon is too smart for that. And she, presumably, also saw “Brothers” and “It’s Complicated” and any other number of movies that failed to pull that one off with grace. (Cinematographer David Kruta warms up the light as he goes along, bringing both Abby and her surroundings into a more comfortable place.)
The cast is splendid (particularly Maggie Siff as a neighbor who becomes a client), but it’s Weigert’s show all the way. She lets us see the passion (be it anger or sexuality) simmering beneath the surface of this lesbian housewife and mommy, but she can also be cool and analytical, whether she’s working out her double life or just rethinking the tile in the kitchen.
“Concussion” is a smart and sensual movie not just about a woman’s mid-life crisis but also about relationships and getting older and the choices we all make between our responsibilities and our desires. Ain’t that a kick in the head.