Movie review

‘Concussion’: is there really a market for that? | 2½ stars

Updated: 2013-10-18T00:46:22Z

By NICOLAS RAPOLD

The New York Times

Rated R | Time: 1:33

“Concussion,” written and directed by Stacie Passon, deals with the age-old challenge of keeping that special spark alive. How do you find meaning in lives that seem to consist of routine, much less appreciate desire in its complexity and vividness?

I refer, of course, to the challenge of making movies about suburban midlife malaise. This debut feature from Passon joins that long tradition with the story of Abby, who gets the urge to return to work as a real-estate flipper after the shock of being bonked on the head by one of her two children. She’s married to a lawyer, Kate, and their relationship seems to suffer from a muffling insulation from life, marked by sexual frustration and tedium.

All that might ring a bell, and even Abby’s escape — becoming a belle de jour, with the help of her renovations partner — feels more familiar to us than it does to her. Abby uses the name Eleanor while entertaining her sexual clients, all women, in the Manhattan apartment she has fixed up and staged for sale.

The rules and the roles of what is presented as a genteel business keep her on her toes, and for a storyteller, the unlikely premise is also convenient for charting her growing confidence and signaling forbidden freedom.

But even with Robin Weigert’s skill, as Abby, at drawing us into the contour of her thoughts, there are things off about “Concussion” beyond the state of her marriage. Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) hardly comes across as more than busy and blasé, her climactic line (“I don’t want anyone”) feeling unearned.

Much of Passon’s dialogue, in fact, has sharp, knowing little twists that flag the ends of scenes that haven’t necessarily gotten anywhere. Abby’s risky connection with another mother from school (Maggie Siff) with a rich husband seems especially reliant on this obliqueness.

The film leans on that sense of being off-balance (or feeling concussed), and much of its action is laid bare in a light with a bracing hollow clarity. Most palpable is the queasy drift of Abby’s ethics and the sense that her escape is a fragile, even illusory one, though that itself seems partly to result from the slight aridness of many of the film’s sex scenes. And as Abby’s serial encounters run their course, Passon ultimately seems to skirt some of the larger life questions hinted at along the way.

(At the Glenwood Arts, Tivoli.)

| Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times

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