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Lady of the Day
By Alexander C. Kafka
Defying stereotypes, genre niches, and commercial easy-outs, Stacie Passon’s Concussion is a quietly intense character study about aging, eros, and expectations. It’s sexy but not exploitative, sensual but not manipulatively explicit, and paced in a way that taffies out the fear, the awkwardness, and the excitement of its characters’ lovemaking.
Abby (Robin Weigert) is perched between universes. There’s the progressive world where no one blinks at her marriage to another woman, their parenting of two children, and her working as a contractor flipping beat-up loft spaces into airy condos. But then there are the dreary duties of housewife—cleaning, throwing dinner parties, and picking up the kids from school. She might feel more her own woman if her lawyer wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) were more into her sexually. But Abby, a fitness nut who runs, spins, and does yoga to her limits, clearly isn’t getting the physical and romantic stimulation she craves.
The titular concussion, involving an unfortunate confluence of child, parent, and errant ball, is as much a thematic device as it is a plot element. It frames a shift in Abby’s consciousness, a sudden quiet defiance against society’s need to normalize and neutralize the midlife libido.
After an uncomfortable appointment with an unkempt prostitute, followed by a more fulfilling assignation with a tidier pro, Abby finds herself, through her colleague Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovsky), becoming a Lady of the Day herself, entertaining clients from college age up in a downtown space she’s fixed up but not yet sold. Such a development should strain credibility, and in lesser hands it would. But Passon conveys the shift in Abby’s life with a nuance and gradation that somehow make it work.
Part of Passon’s finesse involves surrounding Abby with a quirky range of clients, from a college student who wants to shed her virginity and her weight to a skittish seasoned woman recovering from a too-considerate, overly civilized husband. One client’s a little too aggressive and another alarmingly familiar from the school carpool line, but the film never lets its uneasy developments slide into B-grade late-night thriller riffs. It eludes, and sends up, genre traditions even in the character of Abby’s pimp (an amusing Emily Kinney). Known simply as “the girl,” she is a stressed, precocious, meticulous pre-law student whose entrepreneurial instincts are anarchically combined with undergraduate tactlessness.
But most of all the film is made real to us through Weigert. As the tense, conflicted, brave, and empathetic Abby, she seductively, slyly, but shyly persuades us that her strange journey is necessary. Lawrence’s Kate is delicately, classically beautiful, but frosty, too. And Maggie Siff as Sam, the client and fellow PTA mom, is an intriguing intertwining of vamp and vulnerability.
David Kruta’s light-filled cinematography; the murmurs of Barb Morrison’s anxious and seeking musical score; and Anthony Cupo’s smart, patient editing all enhance the picture’s taut atmosphere.