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Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Hollywood Portrayals of Dissatisfied Wives and "Concussion"

I remember when I first started reading Eat, Pray, Love a few years back. I was really excited to be dive in because I heard the main character--Elizabeth Gilbert (who's also the author)--got to travel all across the world and experience different cultures. I figured I could live vicariously through her story.

But I was wrong, so very wrong. Well, you should know that I couldn't even make it past the first few chapters. Why? Because I found that Gilbert's whimsical expedition came at the expense of her marriage, which came to a bitter ending for reasons unbeknownst the reader. We're only led to assume that she falls out of love her hubby, but even she doesn't even bother to struggles to explain that. Despite his attempts to give her what she wanted (albeit intangible,) Gilbert fluttered out of her marriage as quickly as she bid adieu to the life to which she grew accustomed. Dissipated feelings in a marriage is obviously not a new concept and is completely understandable, but that it was portrayed so unsympathetically made me feel bad for her husband. Interestingly enough, I much preferred the screen version of the story--mostly because I love Julia Roberts and food porn.

There is too often an inaccessible approach to wife characters in Hollywood films, especially those who spend a lot of time at home. If they're not serving a thankless role in the background, they're the sole focus of a film that fails to capture the complexities of their lives. With the exception of Revolutionary Road in 2008, which offered a profound statement on the plight of the dissatisfied wife before the women's rights movement, other recent films--like Eat, Pray, Love--have had was too distant to care about.

Which brings me to Concussion, the latest film to highlight the life of a displeased wife. Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, writer/director Stacie Passon bleakly follows Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert), a wife who's pushed (or does she push herself?) to the margins of a loveless marriage to her wife, Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). We're not given much information about what's led to their wayward romance, which really does nothing to help us empathize with Abby. All we learn is that Abby is agitated about her relationship, but doesn't really want to escape Kate. She just wants to feel alive, happy again. So she finds herself in the middle of an escort position. With the help of a friend, who she enlists as her informal pimp, she has sexual trysts with various women willing to oblige her requests.

Similar to the themes in Don Jon (though not as insightful), Concussion presents a supplementary dose of affection that Abby feels she is not getting at home. This particular infidelity is supposed to be meaningless, in the way that it doesn't have the same depth as her commitment to her wife. But problems arise when Abby develops feelings for one of the women--Sam, played by Weigert's Son of Anarchy co-star Maggie Siff. But as soon as that happens, the movie dissolves after that. It doesn't create any tension, even when Kate later finds out about Abby's indiscretions. There is no argument, no discussion--it's swept under the rug to fester for what we can only assume will be a long time. In fact, the only time Abby faces the reality of her predicament is in a small scene with Sam that fails to get to the crust of what is really going on.

It's a disappointing ending to a film that had the foundation to be really good. It simply fails to connect or tell us anything. These wife characters, especially when they're leading the story, deserve a lot more than what we've been seeing lately.

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