Don't get confused: Concussionis not a lesbian amnesia thriller. Stacie Passon, the director of the film, has been reading that in the press after bloggers have watched the trailer and dashed off terse "reviews" based on limited information, and she wants to make that clear. In fact, Concussion, Passon's first feature film (with producer Rose Troche), is a complicated story of suburban angst and the conflicted middle-aged reality of what one does having a comfortable, yet not completely satisfying, living predicament. As we follow Abby (played wonderfully by Robin Weigert, known to many from Deadwood), a fit and practical mother in the wealthy enclave of Montclair, NJ, on her journey exploring passions, desire, and her tamped down curiosity, we see that 21st-century gay domestic life is just as boring as the straight version.
While renovating a loft in New York City, Abby decides to become a high-end hooker to young women looking for love, understanding, and a way to explore their kinky ways (supposedly rich NYU girls go in for that sort of thing). The movie includes some of the most lingering shots on two women kissing that I recall ever seeing in a film (especially without a soundtrack to distract you from the extreme closeups), but don't think it's just a sexy romp without a message.
Rather than focusing on a man's struggle at mid-age (in fact the lack of men is subtle yet astounding), the film delves into the feelings that married women and mothers feel when they find themselves sexually and creatively unfulfilled. The first thing a lesbian friend asked me: Do lesbian prostitutes actually exist? Passon tells me that she's heard that bisexual sex workers are more common, but it's not intended as a literal hooker parable, rather as a way to show that there are people with different libido levels and that not all relationships look and work the same way. "In that way, it starts a conversation," she explains. "A lot of people have longterm relationships but they don't all function equally. And ending it can't be the only answer."
Some of the most powerful scenes involve the young women that Abby meets as clients. Each of them seem to have fascinating backstories and get something different from their encounters. A woman with scars on her breasts from reconstruction surgery (played by real-life cancer survivor Mimi Ferraro) is one of the most heartfelt and tender moments, allowing audiences to empathize with the therapeutic quality of these encounters for both Abby and her lovers. Then there's Sam Bennett. Played beautifully by Maggie Siff (Mad Men), Sam is another married woman from the same town as Abby who seems more experienced than she lets on. After an awkward encounter in a grocery store, Abby realizes Sam and her husband must have a "deal"--he knows she's screwing around--it complicates everything. "Maggie is dreamy; everybody fell in love with her on set," Passon explains. "I wrote the character, and I didn't like Sam--until Maggie gave her a real depth. It's hard for a writer to hate a character, but Maggie made her this grounded person; she found a way to make her real."
So why, then, the title Concussion? Not only does it cause confusion, making people think it's some sort of lesbo sex thriller, does it also imply that seemingly a innocuous bonk gives her protagnoist an easy excuse to start having sex with women for money? "A guy asked me after a screening if it was just an excuse for her to have sex, and I said, 'Yes, absolutely,' because we all look for excuses," Passon explains. "But it's also a metaphor. We need something jarring, something to allow us to find ourselves."
So is it a sort of cautionary tale? Stay away from sexless marriages, folks! "I don't think it's a cautionary tale, saying don't get married or go to the suburbs," Passon says. "It's more about the fact that you can move in place if you want to. It's about your perspective: It cautions against being stuck, and how to make yourself the subject of your life. Be mindful of what your needs are. It's more than about lesbians--a lot of mothers in general feel that way, too--but because we are gay, I think we can relate. So many of us are so fixed on legitimacy right now, we're forgetting what made us gay in the first place."