Monday, June 16, 2008

“I always wanted a room of my own.”

As a person who, it can be said, purchases an inordinately large number of DVDs I generally make it a point to keep up with the latest disc releases—particularly those of the classic film and television variety. But last week, I made a discovery about a movie that was made available on DVD nearly five years ago…and yet some managed to pass me by.

The film is Lianna (1983), an independent feature written and directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, John Sayles, and it tells the story of a young wife and mother (Linda Griffiths) who, after entering into an affair (and falling head over heels in love) with her child psychology professor (Jane Hallaren), finds herself leaving her film professor husband (Jon DeVries)—a man whose first name, appropriately enough, is “Dick”—to begin a new life of her own. It’s difficult at first; besides the usual obstacles of being a single woman (finding a job and an apartment, paying rent, being hit on by her husbands’ friends, etc.) Lianna faces being ostracized by her friends (her best bud cuts off all contact with her)…and at film’s end, is dumped by her lover for an old flame. Through it all, Lianna remains a sympathetic figure…but never the object of pity.

I managed to catch this movie on the Flix channel last week while dog sitting and was pleased that although it has dated in some respects, it’s still a first-rate film despite its flaws. (Its major blemish is having Lianna’s husband be a real tool—because viewers might get the impression that her newly-discovered lesbianism has resulted from her unfortunate marriage; fortunately, director Sayles resisted the temptation to have his character do something totally lame like see a shrink in order to be “cured”.) Two sequences stand out in my mind in Lianna: a conversation between Lianna and Sandy’s husband (Stephen Mandillo), a football jock who reveals a startling “live-and-live” philosophy regarding homosexuality (in fact, he illustrates this with a story about a gay player on his football team—which he never said anything about since it didn’t seem to affect his ability to play any). This can be contrasted with the thinking of the colleague (played by Sayles himself) who tried to hit on Lianna: he asserts that because he comes from California “that kind of shit doesn’t faze me a bit”—but while he's apologizing for his earlier indiscretion he admits he is a little uncomfortable. The second occurs at the end of the film: Sandy (Jo Henderson) is still hesitant about how she feels about the changes in her best friend’s life…but nevertheless offers a shoulder to cry on and a warm, tender embrace for her friend when Lianna tells her that her lover has left her.

I think Lianna is a sensational film; the dialogue is witty yet realistic and Griffiths is sensational as the title character, who excels in playing scenes opposite other females and her kids (who are a bit baffled and confuses by the turn of events involving their parents). Sayles originally shopped the film’s screenplay around to several of the major Hollywood studios, but many of them were frightened off by the subject matter…forcing him to go the independent route (and setting the stage for the way many of his films would be produced afterward). I consider it among Sayles’s top five, along with Matewan (my personal favorite), Eight Men Out, Passion Fish and Lone Star…but I often wonder what sort of path Lianna would have wandered down if Sayles had pitched the idea to the studios after his breakthrough film, Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), became a success. Naturally, when I learned that Lianna was available on DVD I immediately snapped up a copy for purchase…here’s hoping you’ll do the same.

1 comment:

Stacia said...

Thanks for mentioning that film, I'd never heard of it before. The first Sayles film I saw was "Matewan", on the advice of a college professor I really respected. I didn't much like it or "get" it, really, but in retrospect I think I was too young. A few years later I saw "Eight Men Out" which I adore, and "Passion Fish" wish I liked (despite Mary McDonnell).

I never realized it was the same director until you wrote this post. Now I realize he also did some other films I like: "The Howling" (writer) and "Brother from Another Planet" (director).