Despite being considered an entertainment legend, it’s somewhat surprising that Liza Minnelli hasn’t really made a huge amount of films. What’s even more surprising is that one of those earliest efforts, the drama Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, had never been released on home video on any format until this year. In spite of the high profile of its star, watching the Otto Preminger-directed film with its numerous flaws, one can see why that was the case. For all the film’s problems, however, the film’s theme of misfits finding and forming a kinship with one another is deeply felt and manages to remain strong and endearing throughout.
Based on the novel by Marjorie Kellogg, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon features the titular character; a 24-year-old woman who is still coming to terms with herself after a horrendous experience has left her disfigured. Upon being released from the hospital, Junie and her friends/fellow patients Warren (Robert Moore), a gay paraplegic, and Arthur (Ken Howard), an epileptic, try and build a life for themselves, protecting each other against a harsh society that they feel is not yet ready to accept them.
Central plot aside, what Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon does well is show how its main character’s relationship with womanhood changes throughout the course of the film. When we first encounter Junie prior to her accident, she is so free-spirited, in love with life and the young woman she is. She has embraced her sexuality and is not ashamed of it. However, Junie devastatingly realizes that women aren’t allowed to be as free as they are without society offering up its own repercussions. It’s a lesson she learns in an extremely painful way when a date goes bad and a violent suitor beats her up and pours acid over her face, forever reprimanding and chastising Junie for essentially embracing her own femininity.
The pouring of the acid onto Junie is an incredibly hard moment to take in the same way that it’s difficult to watch a brutal rape scene because of what is being stolen. In this instance, it is the loss of physical femininity and how much that means to a woman. However, what develops in Junie is another side to her womanhood, one where she discovers a strength and a true independence as well as a survivor instinct. While each trait is unwavering and allows Junie to make a life for herself in the world, there is still a part of herself that is incredibly vulnerable.
While Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is not the average Preminger film, anyone familiar with the director’s work would be quick to recognize it as one of his own. The film, despite its various problems, remains an undeniable example of Preminger’s ability to endure as a storyteller throughout the various decades. This is evidenced in the various moments of dark drama mixed with late ’60s/early ’70s flair. Like many of his earlier works, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon features a strong heroine and manages to push boundaries through the displaying of homosexuality and interracial attraction. Ultimately, though, it’s the filmmaker’s decision to shoot a story about the outcasts of society and what it means to exist as such an individual (he being somewhat of an outcast himself in part thanks to his caustic manner) which makes this a true Preminger film.
The problem with a film such as Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon when it comes to performances is that the entire cast can only be as good as the script will allow them to be. In one of her earliest roles, Minnelli shows what a skilled and intuitive actress she is, while at the same time being incredibly camera savvy. Moore comes off best as the film’s flashiest and most dynamic character, while Howard (in his film debut) is absolutely heartbreaking. James Coco remains the weak script’s biggest victim as his local business owner character gets lost in the scattered plot.
There are problems galore in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. There are problems with flow, problems with tone, and problems with pacing, not to mention an atrocious script. There are times when the drama is too dramatic and lighter scenes practically float out of the room. Characters, such as Kay Thompson’s eccentric landlady appear, do something weird which is never explained, and then leave. In the credits, it states that Kellogg adapted her own novel for the screen. Perhaps that’s the problem. Not necessarily that an author shouldn’t adapt her own work, but that this author tried to include everything without much consideration to the fact that she’s writing for a different medium. As a result, aspects such as the surrealist sequence prove interesting, but don’t do anything for the proceedings the way the they might have in the novel. Still, the idea behind both the novel and film, which focuses on the act of healing and finding the courage to both give and receive love, shines through.
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.