Monday, October 21, 2013

At 42, Trapped (And Liberated) By Sexual Freedom

Maggie Siff as Sam and Robin Weigert as Abby/"Eleanor" in Stacie Passon's drama "Concussion".  Radius-TWC


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Monday, October 21, 2013

"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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