‘Concussion’: Head for it

October 1, 2013

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Some actors attract you because of their openness: What you see is what you get, in all its honesty and candor.

But other actors pull you in with their mystery: They present a face that seems to offer any number of interpretations. You don’t quite know what they’re thinking in any situation – and when you find out, invariably you’re surprised.

I’ve been fascinated with Robin Weigert since the first time I remember seeing her, as the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Calamity Jane in David Milch’s too-short HBO series, “Deadwood.” Since then, she’s popped up from time to time in films and on TV shows (most recently in a recurring role as a lawyer on “Sons of Anarchy”).

But she’s never had a movie role like the one she plays in Stacie Passon’s “Concussion.” I saw this film at Sundance, then again at Karlovy-vary, to see if it cast the same spell on me the second time. It did.

Weigert plays Abby, half of a lesbian couple living in tony Montclair, N.J. She’s first seen after a mishap while out with her kids; an errant baseball has clocked her in the head and they’re all on their way to the emergency room for stitches. While she’s waiting to be seen, something else hits her: She’s tired of being the stay-at-home mom, the one who spends her days shopping, cooking, going to spin class.

She wants to go back to work which, in her case, means buying and rehabbing a loft space in Manhattan. She’s got a handyman to do the actual work, a guy named Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky) – and he turns out to be another kind of resource as well.

Specifically, having grown frustrated with the lack of libido demonstrated by her wife, Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence), Abby uses Justin to engage a call girl who takes women as clients. Which triggers a series of thoughts: a) Abby needs more sex in her life and b) there must be other women out there who have the same problem.

Justin, as it turns out, is friends with the woman – actually known as The Girl (Emily Kinney) – who connected Abby with the prostitute. The Girl is willing to let Abby try her hand at being the custom, instead of the customer – and Abby discovers that she has a knack for it.

Her clients are as nervous as she is: women who have just gotten in touch with their sexuality, women with body issues who have been embarrassed to try sex when something is at stake, women who are married (to men). Taking the nom du guerre Eleanor, she finds that she’s not only making good money but also enjoying herself.

She’s giving (and receiving) pleasure – and she is in control. Is she being unfaithful? That’s the question – but is infidelity about the physicality or the hit-and-run intimacy that her new avocation provides her?

Things get strange when Abby discovers that one of her new clients, Sam (Maggie Siff), is someone she knows from PTA in Montclair –someone she even admits to having a slight crush on. The situation gets increasingly complicated – especially when she develops feelings for Sam in the course of their appointments.

Weigert brings an air of remove to the role – a sense that, while she can reveal her feelings, she can also cloak them, just as Abby does from her wife. Weigert pulls us in even as she withholds Abby/Eleanor’s deeper feelings, though not her occasional loss of aplomb at the antics of some of her clients.

At once sexy, funny and melancholy, “Concussion” is like a lesbian “Belle du Jour,” minus Bunuel’s sense of kink. Abby is not a repressed housewife acting out the things she would never think to do with her spouse. Rather, she is someone who has found an outlet to preserve her marriage, even as she discovers that, because of the changes she undergoes, she may no longer be the wife she was.

It’s a breakout role for Weigert, unfortunately in a movie that is destined to be a niche favorite at best. It deserves to be seen by a wide audience, if only for the discussions it will inevitably provoke. But also because it’s just an exceptional and pleasurable film.

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