Lianna and her husband Dick have been married for a few years but the marriage isn't a happy one, since Dick treats her with arrogance. One day Lianna falls in love - with Ruth, a teacher. The people who know them act different: her husband with feelings of sexual betrayal, her children with curiosity and Lianna's friends with ambivalence. Written by
Writer/director John Sayles went with this film where few other directors would have dared to venture at that time. His Lianna is a film dealing with the coming out of a young woman in the midst of a failing marriage. Lianna is a 33 year old woman married to a self-centered college teacher and mother of two children. Though her family does not seem to greatly prosper, it would appear on the surface that Lianna lives a comfortable life. Just when her husband pushes things too far, Lianna starts up a sexual relationship with her night school teacher. Lianna cares enough for this woman that she becomes openly gay, and moves out of her home. She quickly learns that her coming out may cause more problems than she originally bargained for.
First of all, she is forced to live in a tiny apartment and financially support herself. The job market of this college town seems weak, and there isn't much out there in terms of decent employment. As one might expect, Lianna's children are somewhat alienated by their mother's new lifestyle. Their father no doubt helps further the alienation. Lianna's best friend no longer wishes to speak to her. And perhaps worst of all, the woman she came out for, does not wish to be committed to her. She has another woman in another town she is still very much in love with. The rest of the film deals with Lianna coming to terms with her new lifestyle, and trying her best to fight off her sudden loneliness and isolation.
John Sayles, who even plays a supporting part, does a very good job with the material. He had to make this film on a budget of less than half a million dollars, and all of that pretty much came from private donors. The film ends up looking pretty good, but many of the locations are somewhat bleak in appearance. Sayles handles perhaps the most important scene with very good tact. In it, Lianna is trying to come out to Ruth (the teacher) without actually saying it point blank. Ruth is clearly attracted to Lianna, but she obviously fears making a move before she is sure that's what Lianna wishes. Notice how she delicately moves her hand through Lianna's hair as Lianna details a close relationship with a female friend at summer camp. And yes, there are numerous sex scenes. On the surface, this type of film might sound like exploitation, but Sayles doesn't let it slip into that territory. He allows his characters to keep their dignity, and we the audience care deeply about them before its over.
The film is not necessarily about the triumphs and empowerment of coming out. Lianna in fact seems mostly miserable once she allows herself to be honest about her sexuality. That makes this film a somewhat depressing endeavor. Only in the film's final scene is there any sliver of hope that the protagonist can gain acceptance from someone was alienated by her change of lifestyle. The film stumbles a bit in terms of how it handles Lianna's relationship with her husband. He is shown to us as being a truly reprehensible slug from the beginning. I think it would have been more interesting to show him as being either likable or at the very worst simply inattentive. Being as though we already know what a jerk he is, there really isn't any where else the story can go with him. Maybe it would have been more interesting to show how a more typical man would have reacted to his wife coming out. Just a thought.
Overall this is a daring and thoughtful film. Linda Griffiths is particularly outstanding as the title character, and the rest of the cast is fairly convincing as well. The film scores points for dealing with its characters as well-defined individuals, rather than simple stereotypes. If you can find a copy of this little-known film, by all means give it a look. 8 of 10 stars.
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