Lianna (Linda Griffiths) is the wife of a college professor teaching film and media at a university in a small to midsized town in New Jersey, and the mother of two children.
In an attempt to give her husband more freedom, at his request, and cure her boredom in being a housewife, she takes a child psychology class with her friend Sandy.
Becoming more involved in the class and interacting with the female professor, she realizes she has a crush on the instructor, Ruth.
They eventually sleep together and begin an affair, complicated by Lianna's husband's affair with one of his students.
Lianna expresses interest in leaving her husband for Ruth, but Ruth backs away, warning Lianna that living with another woman would jeopardize her career as a child psychologist—and, to complicate matters, she has a partner in another city.
Lianna leaves her husband after a particularly ugly fight to live alone for the first time in years.
Lianna visits a lesbian bar and attempts to connect with other lesbians through a string of affairs to explore her new identity.
The film explores her loneliness, her changing relationships with her children, and her new relationship with Sandy, who is shocked at Lianna's revelations at first, but slowly begins to accept it and support Lianna.
The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a positive review and wrote, "John Sayles again uses a keen intelligence and finely tuned ear to tackle the nature of friendship and loving in Lianna...
Paced by Griffiths' excellent pivotal performance, the film is marked by fine acting overall, particularly Hallaren as the catalytic lover scared off by the intensity of Griffiths' feelings; De Vries as the acerbic, insecure academic mate; Jo Henderson as the retroactively frightened best girlfriend; and Jesse Solomon as the wise-beyond-years pubescent son.
Sayles himself appears to good effect as a supportive friend." Film critic Glenn Erickson wrote, "The acting is exemplary.
Canadian Linda Griffiths has worked mostly in television since this film, and the excellent Jane Hallaren's upward progress waned after a couple of promising parts.
One has to make the unpleasant association that playing lesbians in Lianna earned them respect but more likely than not put invisible limits on their commercial careers." Critics Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote, "The screenplay by John Sayles is both congenial and wise...
Viewers are sure to find much to savor in the moral and emotional confrontations.