By Gabe Toro | The Playlist October 4, 2013 at 5:03PM
Robin Weigert is an actress of intriguing, indistinct beauty. She could be your teacher, your mother, your librarian or your sister-in-law. It likely makes her the best fit for “Concussion,” an intriguing, vaguely European indie drama. Her Abby is a wife and a mother, as well as an upstanding member of a suburban community. All these things are believable. Somehow, as a prostitute, smiling wanly as she caresses and cuddles her clients, she makes that much more sense. Anyone who saw Weigert steal absolutely every scene as the wily Calamity Jane in HBO’s flawless “Deadwood” understands this dichotomy well: there are few things sexier than wearing various faces.
At the start of director Stacie Passon’s film, that face is bloodied, the result of a mundane accident roughhousing with her children. It’s diagnosed as a concussion, one that subtly changes what has become a ho-hum existence. There’s a routine she shares with her wife, one that relies on comfortable dinners, picking the kids up from school, and shared time with bullshitting neighbors. While there’s little dialogue in the film to show this, Weigert’s growing awareness is like a sixth sense suddenly forming. The injury has caused her world to expand. And that involves increased carnal desires.
Her first impulse lands a female prostitute in her bed. Not fully understanding the marketplace, her first is a shady off-brand lesbian she meets in a dimly-lit apartment. Squirrely and aggressive, she offers her drugs to Abby, before mounting her inexperienced john and having her way. The second one is decidedly more upscale, a slinky med school student, and the two of them have instant chemistry. Sharing a mutual orgasm, she suggests Abby explore her sensual side for a living, and Weigert’s face lights up like it’s the best compliment she’s received in ages. Judging by her passion-less rapport with her wife, and the passive-aggressive judgment of the local harridans who work out at the gym with her, it probably is.
Not only is there a market for the services of a mature, fortysomething woman with a quiet (and secretly newfound) confidence, but business is booming. Her clients are a dubious subset of New Yorkers, most of whom are very attractive, photogenic women, all of them white. One virginal plus-sized client, a college student, feels real and awkward, though it seems somewhat implausible that a student would continuously be able to afford Abby’s $800-a-session going rate. Equally unbelievable is when Abby learns that her employer is actually a pint-sized female law student, a flighty pipsqueak completely oblivious to the level of legal and physical risk of her profession.
Passon leans on montages and explicit bedroom scenes to illustrate Abby’s transformation, but they fail to communicate as much as Weigert’s expressions. As yet under-exploited by filmmakers, Weigert’s full range of emotion is quite staggering: she can be funny, maternal, and flirty all at once, and in a film that relies on her so greatly, she is endlessly watchable. You could write a sonnet about her physicality when she meets each of her johns, sizing them up, circling them, running a hand across their under-explored bodies. This is a frequently titillating film, and Weigert can’t help but add dimensions to that onscreen intimacy and vivid exploration of intimacy, not just seduction but also the shared sensuality of a post-coital chat.
Passon’s film nevertheless can’t resist the allure of some low-hanging fruit. The gossip-mongers who make up the local mommy brigade (including Janel Maloney of “The West Wing”) start to bore the newly awakened Abby, though their inane chatter suggests that Abby should have always been too smart for their one-dimensional complaints. And Abby’s backgrounded struggles with her wife (Julie Fain Lawrence) feel ported over from a generic film about a heterosexual couple. Abby’s later flirtation with a curious heterosexual housewife (Maggie Siff) proves to be a conventional third act distraction meant to give closure to an open-ended notion, that sex-work is ultimately no way to make a living. It’s a weirdly judgmental end to something that Weigert’s performance contradicts. It’s difficult to present characters with conflicting desires when an actress of her caliber is so clearly conveying that, yes, you can have it all. [B-]