F. Scott Fitzgerald famously stated that “There are no second acts in American lives.”
Concussion would beg to differ, it instead presents an American lifestyle permanently stalled in its second act – your dramatic conflict is internal, your strive for a conclusion is an endless war against the white picket waves of suburbia. That the film happens to center around a lesbian woman is almost irrelevant, this is a universal tale of confused escapism and sexual deviancy. You know, the usual stuff.
For every driven man or woman who strikes out and makes it big, there’s another who has to stay at home and watch the kids. What kind of life is a life based on monotonous routine? You should at least be paid. Something better is always just out of reach, but you’ve got to hit spin class and then pick the kids up before you can even think about grabbing it.
It takes a blow to the head and a hellish trip to the hospital for Abby (Robin Weigert) to realize that her life has hit a brick wall – but she’s willing to take that first, really rather odd step that so many like her will never find the courage to. In her case, this means renovating an uptown apartment, and swiftly warming to the idea of working as a high class prostitute.
Concussion is a film that playfully subverts stereotypes – the initially groan inducing character’s-home-improvements-reflecting-their emotional-development shtick usually doesn’t involve such outré subject matter. But then again, this isn’t really a film grounded in realism as much as a romanticized, semi-fantasy world where softly-spoken university students work as part time pimps. The few moments where the real world does seem to bite back – a customer with violent tendencies, a succession of STD immunizations – are borderline comedic due to their comparative outlandishness in this strange world where Abby gives her clients book recommendations and then drives straight from her sex pad to do the school run.
Your enjoyment of Concussion all but totally hinges on whether you can accept it for the utter fantasy that it is. This isn’t a film about the dark and murky recesses of prostitution, or – for that matter – the strange emotional voyeurism of demanding a coffee with a jane before you agree to bonk her. No, this is a film about those two romanticised ideals we retreat into when our lives aren’t going the way we’d hoped – the nostalgic and the exotic. There is plenty of both in Concussion, as Abby alternates between ruminations on the lost intimacy between her and her wife (Julie Fain Lawrence) and this new, white-washed world of solicitation and chats over coffee.
But she’s only ever flirting with this idealized fantasyland – we always end up coming back, tail between our legs, to our every day lives because even the bold are scared to throw it all away. Even with her new lease of life, Abby just ends up bouncing around the same old -but new- routine. Her newfound personality doesn’t develop past its preliminary stages, just as her old one didn’t. While this is obviously the point, it left Concussion ringing strangely hollow – in the end, I knew everything I was ever going to know about Abby in the first 15 minutes of the film.
While it sounds both interesting and divisive in concept, Concussion never hit me in the way I wanted it to. Sure, it’s brilliantly acted, smartly written and often quite funny, but the film’s substance only goes as far as its core concept will take it. It leaves you on an emotional precipice, always hinting – much like its central character – at a tipping point but never quite willing to go over it. I chuckled and I smiled, but Concussion ultimately ends up feeling like a bigger, bolder film with the volume turned down.
Concussion is well acted, well written and genuinely entertaining, but I just wish that it had rung a little less hollow.