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Lianna (1983)

May 4th, 2007 · 1 Comment

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33-year-old housewife Lianna Massey (Linda Griffiths) spends her days caring for her two kids and supporting the academic career of her husband Dick (Jon DeVries), a film professor desperately seeking tenure. Lianna’s only real joys are talks with her best friend Sandy (Jo Henderson), and attending night class with her.

In spite of protests from her husband that they need to keep up appearances, Lianna backs out of attending a faculty party with him in order to make her class. Sandy watches her friend interact with their child psychology professor, Ruth (Jane Hallaren), and teases Lianna about having a crush on the teacher.

Lianna arrives at the party late and catches her husband enjoying a romp in a sandbox with one of his students. She later confronts him about it. The tension in the house becomes overbearing, but while shopping, Lianna bumps into Ruth. They get to become friends. When Dick leaves town to attend a film festival, Lianna goes to her professor’s house for dinner.

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Ruth reveals that her dream as a child was to play basketball for the Celtics, and as the night goes on, Lianna shares a story about falling in love with a female camp counselor when she was a girl. The women embark on a sexual relationship, which Lianna does not hesitate to notify Dick about. This gives him the out he’s been looking for in the marriage, and he asks Lianna to leave.

Lianna expects Ruth to let her move in with her, but her professor is reluctant to make their relationship public due to the effect it would have on her career. When Lianna tells Sandy about the affair, her friend has no idea how to react. Lianna’s husband notifies the kids, and her 6-year-old daughter becomes distant to her as well.

John Sayles was a novelist who got his start in film by bringing structure and a certain degree of wit rewriting Roger Corman B-pictures like Piranha and The Howling. In 1978, he also wrote a romantic drama about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality, a subject that was quite a departure at the time.

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Sayles chose to make another one of his scripts – Return of the Secaucus Seven – his directorial debut in 1980 because he could afford to finance it himself. He then spent a year and a half trying to raise $800,000 to shoot Lianna on 35mm film, before compromising to make it for $300,000 on more grainy 16mm. He was again the primary investor, and again cast stage actors who had never starred in a movie.

Lianna may sound like a Lifetime TV movie, and could have been with an inferior filmmaker overplaying the turbulent domestic drama in the story. But Sayles wrote and cast the film with subtle beauty. It’s a picture about adults for adults, one of the lost gems of the 1980s. I’d go as far to say it’s one of the strongest films of Sayles’ career.

The dynamics between the characters are deep and involving. The dialogue is rich. As director and editor, Sayles brings a real passion to the film. Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You For Too Long” and Jeanne Staml’s “Nevertheless I’m in Love With You” – played over the opening and closing credits – are superb choices. I highly recommend this film for screenwriters; few people in the trade know how to write character and structure their scripts as consistently well as John Sayles does.

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Tags: Unconventional romance

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 robie2008 // Aug 22, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Hi, I just reviewed Lianna (1983) on my blog. I agree, it’s a good film. Your review is excellent. BTW, I love your blog. I added it to my blogroll.

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