Sunday, October 6, 2013

So Long Until The Pop, Concussion Is More Indie Than Substantive.

The Good: Decent direction, Moments of performance and eroticism
The Bad: Suffocating mood, Unlikable characters
The Basics: Concussion is a deliberately artsy film that does not quite land.

As moviegoers flock this weekend to Gravity (reviewed here!), I’m opting for an art theater weekend. To that end, I watched Concussion. Concussion falls into the category of art films for the sake of art films . . . at least until the movie actually gets good. That is the bottomline and unfortunate aspect of Concussion (which I am putting right up front); the film is stiflingly boring and problematic up until the forty minute mark when it suddenly gets interesting. It’s far too much of an investment in characters and a situation that is droll and disturbing before it turns surprisingly good.

While much might be written about the sexuality of Concussion, what really turns the film into something watchable and interesting are the emotional entanglements of the film. At its heart, Concussion is about a woman disconnected from her family who starts to reach out for connections with (she hopes) strangers. To them, she becomes mentor, sex object and/or secret crush. After forty minutes of mindnumbingly slow shots of characters looking at ceilings or staring blankly at the camera or waiting for their dialogue, Concussion actually makes its protagonist’s journey seem interesting and . . . human.

After her son hits her in the head with a baseball, Abby does not feel like herself. Her wife of (at least) six years shows no genuine interest in her, falling asleep while sleep fingering her and that leaves Abby feeling disconnected from her own life. Abby cheats on Kate, her overachiever wife, with a dirty prostitute before confessing to her contractor and friend with whom she is working on a property she bought after the head injury what she did. Justin hooks Abby up with an $800/session prostitute who flatters her by admitting that Abby got her off. Through Justin and his mysterious contact, The Girl, Abby begins a life of prostitution.

As Eleanor, Abby begins to take women to bed for money. Meeting with The Girl, Abby tries to get put in touch with older women and that is when her instincts truly kick in. When client #6 turns out to be the woman she has long had a crush on, Abby starts to lose herself in the job as opposed to her family life. When Kate’s friend is getting a divorce, Abby’s secret loft and alternate life is threatened and she begins to come unraveled.

Concussion spends a lot of its time avoiding exploring the ramifications of Abby’s double life. Most of the film entirely neglects the Abby and Kate relationship. Despite Abby’s early misgivings, once she creates the Eleanor public persona, she does not really look back. That failure to make the internal conflict resonate and explode makes Concussion a far harder sell in the reality department. The characters in Abby’s life do not pop as much as the briefly-seen women Eleanor spends her Monday and Wednesday mornings with.

Concussion was never going to compete with Gravity on the dollar front, if for no other reason than the star power of the two films is Janel Moloney (who was wonderful on The West Wing and has the most regular, longest-running work of anyone in Concussion) vs. George Clooney. As much as I like Moloney, she does not have the drawing power of Clooney and her supporting role in Concussion as Pru is not as substantive as other roles she has had.

The cast of Concussion is led by Robin Weigert, who plays Abby. Weigert is not given a particularly difficult task given that Eleanor is not so much a persona as it is an alias. Weigert has great on-screen chemistry with Maggie Siff, who play’s Abby’s classy crush Sam Bennet. The scenes Weigert and Siff share are the film’s most erotically charged and their on-screen chemistry is so vibrant that it makes it virtually impossible to believe that Abby and Kate have made it last for so many years. For sure, part of the point of Concussion is that Abby and Kate have drifted apart, but Weigert and Julie Fain Lawrence have so little on-screen chemistry, there is no evidence their relationship was actually ever viable.

The surprise performance in Concussion comes from Emily Kinney, who plays The Girl. Kinney plays a na├»ve, good girl, farmer’s daughter on The Walking Dead and in Concussion, she plays a cold-as-ice madame and law student. She is entirely convincing in her few scenes and the departure from her familiar role is chilling to see.

Writer and director Stacie Passon has something to say as both a writer and a director. She doesn’t quite manage to say it clearly or compellingly in Concussion. There are plenty of movies about people frustrated in long-term relationships and Concussion does not add anything interesting to that body of work. Despite a solid middle, Concussion lists along and never quite finds its roots. While it is beautifully filmed, so many of the shots are done for effect, as opposed to statement and the end result is a movie that looks good, has erratic acting, and does not hold a candle to The Kids Are All Right (reviewed here!). That, alas, seems to be the standard to beat. At least the soundtrack isn’t overbearing.

For other films that feature a character making a shocking change in life, please check out my reviews of:
American Beauty
Dan In Real Life


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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