The blow to the head that occurs during the opening scenes of Concussion has so little to do with what this smart, subtle movie is really about that the title almost seems like, at best, a MacGuffin — something dramatic inserted by writer/director Stacie Passon just to get her where she wants to go with her story. It just so happens, however, that Passon herself, just before writing the screenplay, suffered a mild concussion. Art is funny that way: From pain is born investigation and inspiration, and in this case, a knock on the noggin has resulted in a very fine film about sexual politics and personal freedom, or lack thereof.
Long story short: Abby (the wonderful Robin Weigert, of Deadwood fame) and Kate Abelman (Julie Fain Lawrence) are a middle-aged couple living a seemingly comfortable suburban life with their two young kids. Their existence is smooth and pleasant, if a bit mild and routine. All this changes when Abby is hit in the temple by a baseball thrown by her son. She quickly grows restless, and begins to seek the sexual connection that has been severed altogether with her wife. Abby sees an escort, and then becomes one.
The fact that Concussion revolves around the marriage of two lesbians is relevant only in the sense that this social fact is taken completely for granted. No undue attention is drawn to the social context of Abby and Kate’s union, nor does Passon have any political axes to grind. This portrayal of acceptance is more than refreshing: for many of us, it is fact. And it allows the director to focus on the nitty gritty of a relationship in crisis. This movie is not about identity politics. It’s about sexual politics and the tension of intimate relationships that have settled into routine — out of comfort, fear, need — despite an intrinsic lack of passion.
Weigert gives an amazing performance; her face alone is capable of registering a storm of tangled emotions at once, and as she dives deeper and deeper into her double life, we witness the gorgeous and terrible conflicts that take place among sexual desire, personal freedom, honest commitment and loving loyalty. And it is a credit to Passon’s skill as both a writer and a director that Concussion rarely takes the easy road. Abby’s infidelities are neither morally condemned nor entirely celebrated; rather, the movie’s frank, often touching depiction of sexuality is troublingly erotic and sentimentally complicated. It raises more questions than it answers. Those questions — What is the difference between need and want? Is it worth staying in an otherwise good relationship if the intimacy is absent, and if so, do I step out? — and how they are posed rank this as one of the more sophisticated and adult romantic dramas to come out in recent years.
CONCUSSION: Written and directed by Stacie Passon. Cinematography, David Kruta. Editing, Anthony Cupo. Starring Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Julie Fain Lawrence, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Emily Kinney. Radius (Weinstein Co.), 2013. R. 96 minutes. Four stars.