Picks and Pans Review: Lianna

updated 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Director John Sayles tackles a tough subject, lesbianism, and makes it into a worthwhile movie by adopting a low-key (also low-budget) approach that seems more direct and honest than that of, say, Personal Best. Set in an unnamed college town in New Jersey, the film begins as a story of marital infidelity. Lianna, played by Canadian actress Linda Griffiths, finds out that her husband, Jon DeVries, a disgruntled English professor, is fooling around with some of his students. She even spots him one night rolling around with a coed in a children's sandbox during one of those dreary faculty parties. Lianna then signs up for a course in child psychology, and before too long she too is having an affair—with the instructor, played by Jane Hallaren. The movie has a hard, flat look that gives it a realistic tone; an explicit love scene between the women doesn't really shock, simply because it is presented so unpretentiously. The funniest scene in the film is when Lianna, newly liberated from her husband and living alone in an apartment, bumps into another tenant in the basement laundry room. "I'm gay," she announces proudly. The other woman, who couldn't care less, says, "I'm Sheila." Sayles, who also wrote the movie (as he did his previous film, Return of the Secaucus Seven), has a cameo role: He's a film instructor on the make for Lianna until he discovers she's having a lesbian affair. His awkward response is quietly hilarious. The whole movie works, in fact, because it is so understated—Hollywood would never do it this way. Sayles made this $300,000 movie in his hometown, Hoboken. (R)

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