Lillian Hellman was an American playwright famous for The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes and Toys in the Attic. Throughout her career, she was involved with a few left-wing causes, and was on blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950’s for having communist acquaintances.
The film is based of Hellman’s memoir, Pentimento, dealing with Lillian (Jane Fonda) writing her first play, her rise to fame and relationship with a lifelong friend, Julia (Vanessa Redgrave). We’re shown small scenes as Lily and Julia grow together, hiking and visiting Julia’s rich grandparents as teens, taking time to visit while studying at Oxford. From the glimpse at their relationship together we conclude that Julia is the bold, daring one wanting to change the world, while Lily is more reserved, soaking in everything about Julia.
While Julia is studying in Vienna, she becomes part of the anti-fascist movement in 1930’s europe. Things are getting more and more dangerous around her, she’s even hospitalized in an air raid. When Lily becomes a famous playwright traveling to Moscow, she is approached by a man sent by Julia. She’s offered a mission to help aid the anti-fascist movement by smuggling money into Berlin.
Without Julia’s heavy influence in her, I would not have believed that Lily would agreed to do this. She always seems to be trying to live up to Julia. While on this mission, we see that Lily is a pretty terrible smuggler, she’s very nervous and even sweaty at times. Terrible poker face. Along the way we realize that there are people helping her. Without them casually telling her what to do, the whole thing would easily blow up in smoke.
The one part of the film I could really appreciate and connect with was when Lily was writing her first play. She hits the highs and lows of writing, like throwing her typewriter out the window and writing THE END repeatedly in triumph. But along the way there is the dreaded writers block. While stuck in that rut, her mentor and lover Dashiell (Jason Robards) gives her some tough advice, “If you really can’t write maybe you should find a job.” If I’ve learned anything from this blog, it’s that writers block sucks but to get going again is a wonderful feeling.
The film is done very well, both Fonda and Redgrave put on wonderful performances. The portion of the film within the smuggling mission is most intriguing and pulls a good amount of suspense. But besides that, I just didn’t feel invested in the story. The relationship between Julia and Lillian seems to hold strongest in Lillian’s mind. Does Julia hold Lillian in such high regard? She’s able to name a child after her, and ask her to be a money mule at the same time. I thought Lillian was pretty naive, yet she was to embody the great writer. I wasn’t buying it, but maybe that’s just me.
“You better tear this up. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not good enough, not for you.”