Any film or TV show that features a good deal of lesbian sex and courts mainstream appeal begins at a disadvantage. Like the first few seasons of "The L Word" before it, Stacie Passion's Concussion is taxed to walk a fine line: to titillate without pandering, to deliver thrills without looking like exploitation. The film, which opened at Frameline this year, has plenty of the first, crackling with elicit encounters that end, more often than not, in a a transcendent orgasm (or at least a good chat). The second, as always, is in the eye of the beholder.
Concussion's plot is deceptively simple: Housewife Abby (Robin Weigert), locked into a domesticated life of perpetual exercise and unfulfilled sexuality with her power-broker wife, is literally knocked out of her routine one day by a play accident which leaves her with a concussion and a newfound desire to explore her sexual desires. Setting up shop in the conveniently located city apartment she's remodeling, Abby reluctantly becomes a high-end girls-only call girl and begins a series of episodic encounters with women of all stripes, from a virginal plus-sized women's studies major to an older first-time lesbian.
Luckily, Passion's film handily transcends this somewhat Lifetime-y setup due to the appeal of Robin Weigert (Deadwood scene-stealer Calamity Jane), who glides with ease between the disparate roles Abby plays in her own life, from mother to business-woman, seduced to seductress. Once upon a time I conducted a very tidy, and very charming, interview with Weigert and another of the film's stars, Jonathan Tchaikovsky, which has since been lost to time, but what stuck with me was Weigert's immediate appeal, in person as on screen. Put simply: this is a star-making role. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Presidio Theater.
After Tiller - Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's SFIFF-screened documentary of the four remaining doctors in the US who provide late term abortions is a galvanizing reminder of just how far from OK the state of our country's gender politics are. Tiller takes us inside their lives and the lives of their patients, never preaching or underselling the complexity of these concerns. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. The Roxie.
The Patience Stone - This feminist Muslim parable about the faithful wife of a paralyzed husband (the amazing Folshifteh Farahani) stirs and pleases in equal measure, scoring it a tidy place in the welcome wave of female-led films recently emerging from Muslim places. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Opera Plaza.
The Fifth Estate - Bill Conder and R. J. Cutler's ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about Julian Assange's Wikileaks is a bit pat, but engaging no less. Unfortunately the story has already been better told in other non-fiction films (We Steal Secrets, The Story of WikiLeaks). Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. AMC Van Ness.
The Shining - With all the buzz surrounding The Shining-riffing conspiracy flick Room 237, those in need of a brush-up might be wondering where they can see the original on the big screen. Look no further: Clay hosts two midnight screenings this weekend. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. The Clay.
Zaytoun - This unlikely Israeli buddy comedy starring the underused Steven Dorff (Blade) aims for the mushy heart of Hollywood and scores a direct hit. Those looking for a reasoned analysis of regional tensions have plenty of other places to look. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. Opera Plaza.
Sister Cities Cinema: Zurich/SF - Film Society's latest offering showcases some great Swiss and local films, including Barry Jenkins' lauded Medicine for Melancholy and beloved SF buddy-cop bug-out Freebie and the Bean as well as 70's doc gem Punk Cocktail: Zurich Scene 1976-80 and The Swissmakers, the country's most successful film ever. Oct 18-20, New People.