When Stacie Passon gave her old friend Rose Troche the screenplay for what would become her debut film, Concussion, Troche couldn't resist coming on board as producer.
Abby is very much in a midlife crisis but she’s also in her sexual peak
“I'd known Stacie for 20 years and we'd lost touch,” explains Troche, who made her mark as the director of Go Fish, The Safety of Objects and television's The L Word. “Stacie had gotten married, had a family and emerged back in my life after 11 years. I'm offered a lot of screenplays to read and this was kind of incredible so I immediately wanted to be involved.”
Passon says the inspiration for the film was her own relationship. “I've been married for many years to a wonderful woman and to me this was an expression of marriage and what it takes 20 years later.”
Like the couple in the film, Passon's wife is a high powered professional who supports their family financially, while Passon, like the film's protagonist, Abby (Robin Weigert), is a stay-at-home mum with their two kids. The big difference, though, is that Abby, feeling frustrated as they hardly ever have sex, finds herself seeking the services of prostitutes and soon becomes one herself. Ultimately, she finds she craves the intimacy as much as the sex.
Unrecognisable from her dowdy, heavily clothed Calamity Jane character in television's Deadwood, Weigert is a revelation in the movie, both acting-wise and because of her stunning looks. Incredibly, she had never done sex scenes before the film.
“I'd played a couple of strippers in small parts,” Weigert notes. “In Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, I was a tattooed stripper for a couple of scenes, then in Steven Soderbergh's The Good German I was a very different stripper. I busted my cherry on those two,” she chuckles. “But scenes of such intimacy likes those in Concussion were new to me. When Abby was locked in her own psyche and cut off in pain in the first act of the film, it was harder to play than the sex.”
Certainly, the concussion Abby suffers when playing baseball with her son in the backyard isn't only physical. She is stunned into realising she needs more than her domestic life in a well-to-do community outside of New York. Passon herself lives in the posh neighbourhood of Montclair, New Jersey and interestingly suffered a mild concussion in the same manner depicted in the film, with the experience inspiring her to make a film.
Even if Weigert felt uncomfortable exploding at her on-screen son—played by Passon's 10-year-old Micah—Passon was adamant about starting the film in that manner.
Weigert: “I said, 'How do you get on board with a protagonist for such a journey who you begins by saying, 'Shut up you little shit!'? But Abby's at a point of such frustration at the top of the film that you need to see her exploding at her child.”
“Here's the deal,” the forthright Passon notes. “When you're a bourgeois housewife everybody thinks, 'Poor you!'” she says sardonically. “You don't get any compliments as a woman with kids. Your life is really slime-sucking in a lot of ways and you've made this your life. Every day someone is telling you how they feel about some stupid thing, everyone's having tantrums around you constantly and your nerves just get fried. I wanted Robin to be in that world. Abby is very much in a midlife crisis but she's also in her sexual peak which has sort of been prolonged because women are having children later.”
As for the world of lesbian prostitution in the film, Passon did enough research to know it existed, whereas Weigert conducted no research at all. “Abby just went through a series of experiences, one after the other, and I just followed her down this strange path,” says Weigert. “It was about giving myself over to her particular hunger.”
Passon: “As I was writing I couldn't tell the audience that the people Abby was seeing were basically reflections of herself. I didn't want to go there. One of my favourite parts of the film is that first kiss with the college student because it really is her first kiss in a very, very long time. Then after being with the very good hooker she begins sort of anew. I wanted that evolution to happen in the film, as she begins to see herself clearly.”
A devoted mum, Passon not only cast her son in the movie but also her eight-year-old daughter, Maren, so she could be near them. She acknowledges that it's a really huge sacrifice for her wife to go to work. “She's still a mother. It's hard to be a working mother.”
Meanwhile, Weigert, who is not a mum, bonded with Passon's kids. “Robin was great with them. I had to just roll the camera. She was instinctively method.”
The film relates a situation relevant to any kind of marriage, notes Passon. “But in this case, you can't stereotype the genders because you don't have genders to stereotype. So I think it's a very interesting examination of marriage for just that reason. You can't say, 'Of course, the husband's a workaholic and doesn't pay attention to the woman'. If it was a man and a woman and it was the man who cheated, we might say he's in a midlife crisis, because a man at that age needs sex.
“The movie's about a certain point in a marriage or a relationship when both people have to go through a difficult passage because one of them has a different set of needs than the other. That's something that's universal. I also like that the movie's open-ended. It leaves people talking and thinking; it's open to discussion.”
Sunday 13 September, 8:55pm on SBS VICELAND
Director: Stacie Passon
Starring: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky
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