Lianna (1983)

“Just because you can argue better doesn’t mean you’re right!”

Synopsis:
An unhappy faculty wife (Linda Griffiths) divorces her husband and discovers that she is attracted to women.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
This “unusually fine, thematically daring” independent film by John Sayles is likely the best portrayal of female “coming-out” I’ve ever seen. Over the course of the movie, we witness the shifting reactions of Lianna’s husband, her children, her best friend, and Lianna herself, all of whom — naturally — cope in different ways with this revelation. As Peary notes, it’s unfortunate that Lianna’s husband comes across as such as a chauvanistic jerk, because he’s not really the reason she “turns” to women — ultimately, Lianna is on a joyous if painful journey towards self-discovery. Indeed, once Lianna “realizes she is a lesbian, she is happy with that knowledge” and “suffers no shame”. While society at large may not be ready to accept Lianna’s change of sexual expression, she herself is — and that’s ultimately most important.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent, natural dialogue
  • Linda Griffiths’s sympathetic performance as Lianna

Must See?
Yes. This early John Sayles film is a uniquely respectful character study.

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One Response to “Lianna (1983)”

  1. A must – and in complete agreement with the assessment.

    The film seems somewhat overlooked these days but I recall it being very well received as an art house pic when it was released. At least it’s easily available in a nicely restored DVD print.

    I have a slightly different take on the film – in that I don’t see it first and foremost as a coming out story. I see it mainly as a story of someone coming into her own as a person, aside from who she is attracted to sexually. Lianna is married to an ambitious man and then has an affair with an ambitious woman: to the man and the lover, getting ahead is paramount yet the desire to advance has left them less interested in who they are inside…and less happy in their uphill climb. Who she really is matters very much to Lianna. To me, Sayles is saying it’s crucial – regardless of the outcome – that you define yourself in accordance with how you can honestly see (and hopefully like) yourself in the mirror. The element of lesbianism accentuates the illustration. (So, the fact that Lianna’s husband is a chauvinist seems more appropriate to me.)

    By way of its very believable characterizations and dialogue, ‘Lianna’ is elevated beyond being an average ‘woman’s picture’. Many wonderful vignettes are contained within. I esp. like the laundry room scene in which Lianna feels compelled to tell her neighbor, “I’m gay.” – to which the neighbor replies, “I’m Sheila.” Also esp. moving are scenes between Lianna and her friend Sandy (played by Jo Henderson, a wonderful actress taken too soon in a car accident – I saw her in an off-Broadway play called ‘My Life’ and thought she was remarkable). In one scene, Lianna happens upon Sandy taking Lianna’s children to a movie: note how conflicted Henderson is here as she grapples with Lianna’s reality. ‘Lianna’ also ends very poignantly with a scene between these two good friends. The scene perfectly illustrates the extraordinary occurrence when a true friend confesses to the difficulty of comprehension while still choosing to value friendship.

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