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Smooth Talk

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Smooth Talk

Starring: Laura Dern, Treat Williams
Director: Joyce Chopra
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 92 Minutes
Release Date: May 1986
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Mary Kay Place, Levon Helm, Sarah Inglis

Review by Dustin Putman
4 stars out of 4

"Smooth Talk," which is the best independent film I have ever seen, won the Grand Jury Prize at 1985's Sundance Film Festival, then known as the U.S. Film Festival. It is an alternately funny, touching, tragic, unexpected gem.

Laura Dern stars as Connie, a bored 15-year-old girl who is sometimes naive and selfish, like most teenagers are, and has an unhappy home life, especially because her mother (Mary Kay Place) completely doesn't understand her. Her dad (Levon Helm) is often so involved in himself and his own dreams that when he talks to Connie, it is as if he is speaking a foreign language. She also suffers because her parents obviously prefer her older sister, June (Elizabeth Berridge). It is summer break, and all Connie wants is some excitement in her life. Every day she goes to the mall with her two friends and they slip into the bathroom, change into more revealing clothes, and run around the building like little children. She also decides to venture across the road from the mall and go to the burger joint where the older people hang out, hoping to find a boy, but it is obvious she is still too immature for a relationship. Connie briefly comes in contact with a handsome, but mysterious older man who obviously has an ulterior motive.

To give away the last 30 minutes of "Smooth Talk" would be criminal, because one of the best things about the film is the element of surprise at what comes at the conclusion. What happens is one of the most unpredictable, shocking things I have ever seen, but it leads up to a moment in the last scene that leaves closure for what had happened, and is one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film.

"Smooth Talk" is the best type of film. It obviously was made for not much money, but was written and directed by Joyce Chopra, based on the short story, "Where Am I Going? Where Have I Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates, with a great deal of delicacy and care. The screenplay is especially impressive, and perfectly realized, because not only is it perfect at being a "coming-of-age" story, and a "slice-of-life" picture, but the characters are also all written to be three-dimensional, and each one of them is given the chance to have at least one scene in which we really get to know or sympathize with them.

At the center of the story, however, is Connie, who is one of the most memorable and realistic teenage characters in recent memory. And what definately brings her to life is Dern, who is flawless in her portrayal of this girl who at one moment has the stature and ability to act like an adult, and in the next frame turn into this child. It is Dern's best performance to date, and was worthy of winning the 1986 Academy Award for Best Actress. The other cast members also couldn't be better. Berridge, as Connie's lonely sister, gives a truly poignant performance, as does Jill Inglis as one of Connie's friends whom Connie ignores once she starts hanging out at the burger place. The music by James Taylor is perfect for the movie, and fits very well, especially in the last sequence already mentioned, which makes the scene all the more powerful.

I wouldn't change a thing about "Smooth Talk." It is one of the few motion pictures I've seen that enraptured me in its story and characters so well that at the end, I was left with a lot of deep emotions and feelings about what I had witnessed, and also about the brilliance and subtlety of the last touching scene.

Copyright 1998 Dustin Putman

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