Monday, March 10, 2014

Concussion (2013): Lesbian De Jour

Concussion (2013)
dir: Stacie Passon

One of the new movements in modern gay cinema is the re-appropriation of straight cinema, especially films that are not French New Wave or Italian, which had been re-appropriated during the height of the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1980s into the 1990s. Instead, as we saw with Weekend, gay filmmakers are re-appropriating movies that are strictly heterosexual and using their devices to create a queer-centric story. While Weekend appropriated Linklater's Before Sunrise for a gay male tale of love, Concussion appropriates the Luis Bunuel classic Belle De Jour for a lesbian tale of marriage.

Bunuel was creating a sleek stylish fuck you to the bourgeois ideals of fidelity and monogamous marital bliss, not to mention a fuck you to male machismo and to the demonization of female sexuality. Passon, on the other hand, is creating a fuck you to the lesbian ideals that the LGBTQ community is espousing of monogamous marriage and idealizing the hetero lifestyle.

Abby is a bored lesbian housewife with kids, who is also rich enough to start up projects like flipping apartments just because she is bored as hell. When she is hit with a baseball by her son, and gets a concussion, she starts to realize how bored she is, and rebels against the system of heteronormative ideals that she has become oppressed by. She hires a prostitute, and then, becomes a lesbian prostitute herself.

Through her life as a prostitute, she comes to grips with what is the equivalent to a lesbian midlife crisis. Abby comes to grips with her own boredom, she is exposed by her wife, and, in the end, she decides that perhaps she should have just taken a Hot Yoga class in order to deal with her impending boredom, at once being a sly wink to the double entendre that Hot Yoga can possess but also condemning her midlife crisis actions.

Stacie Passon, who wrote and directed Concussion also has the power of Rose Troche, from Go Fish as her producer. She has crafted a colder, distancing film that gradually warms up as Abby herself comes closer to herself, but still remains as a slightly laboriously paced meditation on the implications of growing up, and realizing you're not where you want to be.

However, Passon isn't as brave a soul as Troche was when she made Go Fish, nor Bunuel when he made Belle De Jour. Her whole statement may be that people sometimes have to take assessment of their life after being triggered by a certain event, but it is also that lesbians are just as boring as straight people. There are chances that Passon has to sear through some of society's hangups, but she largely ignores these with a pointed indifference.

One serious example is that one of Abby's first clients is a young, large, woman who says that she hasn't been kissed. Abby takes a maternal style attitude toward this client, who becomes a repeat client, trying to inform her that her brain is more beautiful than her body, and handing her books like The Second Sex, and about Gandhi, while also telling her to burn the diet books her mother has purchased her. However, Passon doesn't include any hot and heavy sex scenes with this large woman, and all of the other clients with hotter scenes are skinny women, setting the fat girl up as a character of empathy but not eroticism.

The whole accept-fat-people-as-long-as-they're-not-eroticized wishy-washiness is representative of Passon's overall wishy-washiness through the film. Is the heteronormative style of lesbian marriage to be damned, or praised, or neither? Is prostitution good, bad, or just a thing? Is a woman seeking her own life and able to have her own crisis something positive or destructive? What about society's pressures?  What about relationship pressures? Passon goes out of her way to create a film that very carefully doesn't push any buttons, while also playing with dual heady topics of gay marriage and prostitution.

It could also be argued that by all but ignoring the headier, more political topics, Passon is instead making a movie that is more about Abby as a human being and as a woman instead of as a politicized pawn. By playing with the spaces of life, Passon is trying to make a portrait of a woman, instead of a time. Abby, indeed, is drawn very well as a character, while most of the people surrounding her are barely there sketches. As a character study of a panicking lesbian, Concussion actually finds its strengths, but it's basically to give the LGBTQ community a gay version of hetero crisis tales.

Concussion is a successful character study of a bored lesbian housewife. It's gorgeously cold, it's steamy in the right places, its strongly visual, but it's also languid and fairly self-centered compared to the world around it. Passon suffers from mumblecore-itis, in that she doesn't seem to give two flying fucks about the larger political statements, but at least she doesn't give us insufferable characters who only seem to be able to see their lives through themselves. Abby is sympathetic, even as she's making controversial choices. Passon reinforces the heteronormative relationship by the end. And, it's well crafted. Taking Concussion for what it wants to be about, it's a well-done movie. But, if you're looking for Passon, under the training of Troche, to make more trenchant observations or statements about the world at large, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

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