Reviewed by: David Graham

"A brilliant central performance from Robin Weigert."

An intriguing modern spin on the Belle De Jour concept, writer/director Stacie Passon's wry debut mixes elements of The Kids Are All Right with Jeune & Jolie but still emerges with enough of its own personality to prove worthwhile. It's one of those American indies buoyed by solid acting from an ensemble of actors who you can't quite put your finger on but are sure you've noticed before, while the script deftly avoids alienation by peppering the naturalistic dialogue with subtle but crucial character detail. It's likely to fall in that commercial crevice between the art-house and the multiplex - not out-there enough for the former, too queer for the latter - but it's a rewarding watch that resonates afterwards.

Having suffered an accidental blow to the head courtesy of her pre-pubescent son, suburban housewife Abby finds herself questioning her place in life. With her high-flying lawyer wife Kate too stressed and tired to sexually satisfy her and their picture-perfect domesticity starting to stifle, Abby decides to take on a property in the city to renovate, enlisting her young, frank-talking friend Justin to help. Hearing about his laissez-faire approach to relationships inspires Abby to hire a female escort to see what she might be missing, and is surprised and flattered to be told she could be one herself. Abby's sexual empowerment inevitably starts to clash with her domestic bliss, her liaisons becoming increasingly difficult to hide from a suspicious Kate, forcing her to confront her own frustrations in order to decide what's most important to her.

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Opening with the pivotal accident, Abby is immediately shown to be potentially unstable and self-centred, but the ensuing shots of her lonely home-life establish her as more than just another neurotic protagonist. There's an anti-sensationalist approach to the central relationship that Lisa Cholodenko failed to grasp in her star-studded depiction of a lesbian marriage, which makes Abby and Kate more grounded and relatable than Julianne Moore and Annette Bening were in superficially similar roles. Passon drops hints to Abby's wild youth - Blondie and CBGB t-shirts, reminiscences of nightclub shenanigans in well-known NYC nightspots - to reinforce the suffocation of her present predicament, and while wife Kate isn't fleshed out enough, the sacrifices she's made through work are always shown to be motivated by a deep-seated love for her family, further throwing Abby's conduct into relief.

There are many interesting themes explored without things getting too heavy-handed: it's the female gaze that's the focus here, the confidence women feel from another's approbation and affection balanced by the sense that the body can be as corrupting as it is liberating. Abby has no interest in money but she is similarly unconcerned by the fact that she is being pimped out by her friend Justin, himself in thrall to a young student girlfriend who's as brutally businesslike as only spoilt rich kids seem capable. Abby's vetting process of meeting clients for coffee also exposes the harsh truth about some modern women being just as vacuous and greedy as men.

All of this is played with a light comic touch, any encroaching threat which might have made for melodrama kept skilfully at bay while the tension between Abby's alter-ego and her domestic self skilfully simmers. As events spiral towards some kind of eventual realisation, there are many intimate moments of characters opening up to each other - from post-coital connection to dinner-party flirting - that reveal as much about society's attitudes to these women as their own attitudes towards themselves. Passon refuses to judge, compassionately highlighting the insecurities all these women wrestle with on a daily basis, forcing the viewer to question their own attitudes towards sex and relationships.

It's not entirely successful - the often remote stance keeps the action from becoming too involving, and there's no escaping the episodic nature of the transactions - but with a brilliant central performance from Robin Weigert and a sensitive hand on the page as well as behind the camera, Concussion succeeds as a believable investigation into female ennui. It's perhaps nothing you haven't seen before, but where the likes of Todd Solondz wouldn't be able to resist undercutting these characters with snide dialogue, Passon is unafraid to bask in their flaws, and for committing so steadfastly to a female worldview she deserves to be applauded.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2014
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A frustrated woman secretly becomes a lesbian escort.
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Director: Stacie Passon

Writer: Stacie Passon

Starring: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins

Year: 2013

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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