John Sayles succeeds in turning “Lianna” from a coming-out “problem” drama into a serio-comedy about a young woman who unexpectedly discovers resources of wit and confidence within herself.
Married to an adulterous husband, with two children who don't offer challenge or satisfaction, Lianna (Linda Griffith) tumbles into an affair with her older night-school teacher, Ruth. “Lianna” deals with the inner emotional rhythms of a woman whose life is in limbo.
The critic Richard Corliss has observed that the film never addresses the more obvious questions of whether Lianna is in love or just frustrated Does the affair represent a change in sexual orientation or just a detour Is the discovery of herself worth the loss of family and friends
Even so, “Lianna” is one of the first movies to offer a semi-realistic portrait of the changes undergone by a woman upon realizing she is lesbian. This thematic innovation somehow compensates for the film's pedestrian technical quality.
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