The nail-biting peak of Stacie Passon’s Concussion arrives when lesbian housewife-turned-hooker Abby (Robin Weigert) discovers that her latest client is Sam (Maggie Siff), an ostensibly straight member of Abby’s circle of suburban moms, not to mention the middle-aged call girl’s extramarital crush. Chatting in a café during a pseudo-blind date (Sam knew who she was meeting; Abby didn’t), the two women share upstanding traits that don’t jell with their un-PC encounter. “I’m in the PTA,” Abby says. “I’m in the Junior League,” Sam replies. A running joke of the film, first uttered by the mom-posse’s queen bee, Pru (Janel Moloney), is that Sam “isn’t a lesbian; her husband works for Goldman Sachs and her kids are on the lacrosse team.” But apart from this obliquely delivered suggestion that gayness equals deviance from model citizenship, the lesbianism of Concussion isn’t remotely presented as taboo. What stands to ruffle feathers is Abby’s newfound prostitution, which only happens to be a girls-only gig, and which erupts from Abby’s profound dissatisfaction with her virtually asexual wife, Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence), and her two resentment-inducing children.
An interior designer by trade, Abby comes into her new, on-the-sly job after having her own needs met by a high-class hooker, recommended by Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), the handyman helping Abby renovate a sleek Manhattan loft. Justin’s girlfriend, a cutesy, anonymous pre-law student (Emily Kinney), comically and convincingly runs the escort service out of her dorm room, and begins pimping Abby out, apparently just to satisfy the woman’s carnal thirst (she doesn’t exactly need the money). Given the speed with which these developments unfold, and the skill with which Abby is suddenly able to adopt a professional hooker persona, one would think Concussion would be gravely crippled by implausibility. But thanks to a career-best performance from Weigert, who’s in full command of her character’s malcontent, inner fire, and considerable sexiness, matters proceed with a surprising naturalism, as if propelled by nothing more than Abby’s raging libido.
The near-imperceptible finesse of Abby’s characterization reflects Passon’s effortless, interesting mix of richness and economy. All of the director’s themes and devices come together with great fluidity, including the use of the under-renovation space as Abby’s alibi and “office.” The Madame Bovary-esque antiheroine’s parade of clients organically serves as a diverse cross-section of femininity. There’s an overweight virgin, a shy Asian girl, and an over-50 converted widow on the roster, and it says something indeed that there isn’t a shred of maudlinness to the fact that the first topless scene involves a cancer survivor with artificial breasts. Meanwhile, what little attention Abby can offer her family amid her metamorphosis involves her daughter’s elementary-school recital about the Dominican Republic, which, as the daughter notes, comprises the island of Hispaniola along with Haiti, and is a certain representation of Abby and the by-default unity of her locked-together marriage.
What ultimately plays best in Concussion, and what still evades all heavy-handedness of metaphor, is the parallelism of Abby’s two careers, each of which involves renovation, and details that prove to have value far beyond the superficial. Both visually and narratively, Passon is always juxtaposing Abby’s dates with her decorating, and what first seems like an easy skewering of domestic frivolity in the face of human needs (backsplash colors are discussed right along with talk of where to meet the next Jane) culminates with a climactic phone call from one of Abby’s decorating clients, whose inability to choose the upholstery color she wants brings Abby to tears of existential identification. Like Abby’s final encounter with Sam, whose willingness to stray from a passion-filled marriage is left as unexplained as it should be, the upholstery bit is one of many elements that afford the viewer great credit, and it’s as plainspoken, yet unacknowledged, as the film’s title, which clearly refers to the first-act injury Abby suffers due to her son’s stray baseball, but mainly points to our primal, inexplicable necessities to shake things up.