When a woman calls her tween son a “little shit” after he accidentally bonks her on the head with a ball, it’s probably safe to say she’s not very satisfied with her life. That’s the launching point of Concussion, writer-director Stacie Passon’s debut film about a New York City lesbian couple that is living the suffocating American dream.
Abby and Kate (Robin Weigert and Julie Fain Lawrence) have two kids, a lovely home, and enough disposable income for 42-year-old Abby, an apartment renovator/flipper, to enjoy daily yoga and cycling classes and make friends with other ladies who lunch. But the concussion she suffers at the beginning of the film allegedly awakens a restlessness that can’t be quelled with endless cycles of vacuuming, laundry, and grocery shopping. She ratchets up the speed of her treadmill until she vomits. (Apparently, the majority of her day is dedicated to exercise.) Also, though Passon doesn’t really reveal this until halfway through, Kate has lost interest in being intimate.
So Abby visits a prostitute. And then, well, becomes a prostitute, persuaded by her contractor, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), whose girlfriend is a “booker.” (Is it not pimping when a lady does it?) Deeming herself Eleanor (when she tells Justin the moniker she picked, he responds, “My dick just shrank”), Abby entertains clients once a week in the apartment she’ll eventually sell. But first, she meets them at a coffeehouse, leading to the inevitable “What the hell is this?” queries from impatient women.
Increasingly confident—though she tries to call off one appointment when she sees it’s someone she knows—Abby more than gets her itch scratched, so to speak. It’s a welcome change, both for her and the viewer, from her yippie girlfriends whose hobbies include soy lattes, comparing probiotics, complaining about sales clerks, and general bitchiness.
As Concussion moves forward, however, things become less clear, and mind-reading seems to be expected. It’s impossible to tell what Abby’s thinking when she runs into one of her repeated clients (the woman she already knew) and her husband in a store. The small talk is unsurprisingly awkward, but is Abby jealous? Uncomfortable? Afraid of her secret being discovered? Any of these is a possibility.
The final chapter is especially enigmatic, skipping details that not only are crucial to the story but holes that viewers will want filled. They can’t be discussed without spoiling the end, but let’s just say Abby’s situation turns from potentially devastating to hunky-dory in a blink, yet we don’t see how any of it happened.
Even Abby’s encounters with some of her clients leave question marks: She can be cantankerous one minute and soothing the next, and sometimes there’s suddenly tension. These mood swings might be believable if Abby were unsure about her actions, but she seems to truly want and even need this double life. These holes sink a story that is otherwise compelling (if a bit similar to the much inferior Elles), and wastes the nuanced performance of Weigert, whose non-cookie-cutter beauty, particularly a natural one of a woman of a certain age, makes her interesting to watch. Passon’s debut marks her as a promising talent, but someone who still needs to learn that you can’t skip the process of fleshing out, even in a drama that traffics in flesh.