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Sundance 2013: ‘Concussion’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on January 20, 2013

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Concussion is a film about a New York wife and mother who suffers a little head trauma, an injury that leads her to a stunning realization: she doesn’t much care for her life, and wants to try something new.  Yet this is hardly an American Beauty reboot, for the main character, Abby (Robin Weigert), isn’t empowered by this sudden realization, and she’s looking for more thrills than just the excitement of quitting her job and smoking a little grass.  No, Abby lives with her wife and two children outside of New York City, and she gets it in her head that she wants to get herself some strange.

At first, Abby just gets a random number from a sleazy advertisement in the paper, leading to a very uncomfortable encounter with a junky hooker in the city.  Undaunted, Abby keeps at it, and through a friend and business associate, she gets the number of a true, $800/hr pro that knocks the socks off the tame, 40-something housewife.  A real estate agent by trade, Abby’s business associate, Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovsky) lets her know that the woman he hooked Abby up with was impressed with the tame housewife, and even suggested that she get a practice of her own going.  Although Justin only mentions this off-handedly, Abby takes it to heart, and tells Justin that if he’ll manage her, she’ll give it a shot.

Naturally, this is a shock to Justin, who seems to have known Abby and her wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) for some time, and never considered this kind of thing as something Abby would go in for.  Nothing could be further from the truth however, for whether it was the concussion she suffered at the beginning of the film, or just the coincidental epiphany that made her realize that she likes screwing random chicks, Abby quickly discovers how good she is at her new job.

This brings one of the biggest problems of the film to the fore, however, for Concussion never gives its audience a look at what Abby was like before the head injury, and only offers fleeting clues about the state of her relationship with her wife, Kate.  At one point, not long after Abby begins her dalliances in the city, Kate and Abby talk about a married couple who are splitting up because one of the parties said they “needed to breathe.”  Later on in Concussion, when explaining her actions, and the reasons behind her development of a freelance call-girl business, Abby remarks that she “has been breathing.”

Okay, fair enough.  But what had she been doing before?  How has this new direction in life changed her, and what does it mean for the future of her relationship with Kate?  Sadly, the film never pushes this point, for by the end of the picture, little seems to have changed for Abby.  Without giving too much away, it should suffice to say that Concussion doesn’t provide many answers, and is instead content to simply pose a number of questions about the sustainability of passion in a relationship, and whether or not it’s possible to be truly honest with one’s self.

In this way, the film succeeds wonderfully, as it tells a very interesting story staffed with believable characters operating within a very familiar universe.  Yet as an exploration of Abby’s journey from a bored lesbian housewife to a sexually liberated, high-end whore, it falls a bit flat.  Although Abby’s journey into the nastier corners of New York’s vice trade does seem to make her a bit more callous and distant as a wife and mother, it also seems to spiritually liberate her in a positive way, so much so that the audience doesn’t quite know what to root for by the end of the film.

Should Abby leave her wife and family to pursue her passion (random stranger-fucking), or should she give all the call girl stuff up, and return to the domestic lifestyle that actually seems to bring out the best in her?  The movie does a wonderful job bringing the audience to this crossroads, yet seems hesitant to land on either side of the divide by the end.  Indeed, the film starts with a montage of Abby and other housewives working out at the local gym together, and ends in the exact same spot, a surprising move considering the radical upheaval the feisty housewife has put her life through.

As an exploration into Abby’s journey, it’s definitely entertaining, and surprisingly funny at times, yet it’s hard to get over the fact that as a character, she hasn’t really changed all that much by the end.  At one point near the beginning of the film’s third act, Kate remarks that her increasingly distant and callous wife, “just needs to like something.”  In her call-girl profession, and interactions with random women looking for a sexual release, Abby seems to have found that “something.”  By the end of Concussion, however, one can’t help but wonder what that “something” has done for Abby, however, and how the events of this picture will influence that woman after the credits roll.

Pity.  Before that moment, the movie was doing pretty damn well for itself.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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