Smooth Talk (1985)

smooth talk poster 1985 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Dern, Williams

Movie might not go the direction viewers expect

Movie Info

Movie Name: Smooth Talk

Studio: American Playhouse

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  September 10, 1985 (Toronto International Film Festival)/November 15, 1985 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

smooth talk laura dern mall

We’re just normal teenage girls…we like to go to the mall, look at guys, and try not to get abducted by serial killers

Teenager Connie Wyatt (Laura Dern) lives in a sleepy town, likes hanging out with her friends, going to the mall, sunning at the beach, and looking at boys.  Connie finds herself butting heads with her mother Katherine (Mary Kay Place) who doesn’t seem to get her and her sister June (Elizabeth Berridge) who Connie always finds herself compared to.  When Connie catches the eye of an older man, Connie discovers herself in a dangerous situation, and Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) isn’t taking no for an answer.

Directed by Joyce Chopra, Smooth Talk is a coming-of-age drama.  The film is an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” which was first published in Epoch (Fall 1966) which in turn was based upon Don Moser’s “The Pied Piper of Tucson” published in Life on March 4, 1966 which told the story of serial killer Charles Howard “Smitty” Schmid, Jr. (July 8, 1942-March 30, 1975).  The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received positive reviews.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1068).

smooth talk arnold friend car treat williams charles schmid jr

I’m “A. Friend”

I had never heard of Smooth Talk until the Criterion Collection released it.  It sounded intriguing, and I like Laura Dern, so I picked up in a blind buy.  The film has a strange ambiguity to it that also gives it an eerie feeling.  Despite the danger, the film becomes a strange, coming-of-age drama.

Going into Smooth Talk blind is helpful or even just knowing it was tied to a serial killer who hunted young women.  There is a danger in the film that is building and you don’t know where it is going to lead.  For the most part, it feels like it is going to explode into horror…and the fact that it doesn’t, gives the film a type of limbo.  You don’t know exactly what happened to Connie.  She might have just gone for a drive with “A. Friend”, but it is doubtful.  It does snap Connie out of childhood and it feels like she’s no longer teetering between adult and childhood.  She’s entered another phase of her life for better or worse.

smooth talk laura dern treat williams

Little Pig, Little Pig, Let Me In

Laura Dern shows a lot of skill above her age.  Her height and demeanor fit the character who is desperately trying to skip the rest of childhood.  She wants to be an adult but doesn’t want the responsibilities or potential consequences that come with adulthood.  Mary Kay Place jumps from “Brat Pack” to motherhood and it is also that tricky period for a mother who wants to be an friend but also has to be an adult.  Dern’s father is played by The Band performer Levon Helm who also comes off as a little odd and detached (but it works for the movie).  Treat Williams is a scene stealer as the “smooth talker” who is dangerous from the first moment that he hits on the pre-teen Dern at a diner…he’s skeevy and his attempts to be charming are undermined by this.  It doesn’t matter however because he still is the one with the power in the situation.  If Dern doesn’t go with him by choice, she will go with him by force.

smooth talk arnold friend laura dern treat williams

I am not going to smart off to anyone in my family again…

The movie feels like two very different films.  The first part of the film is almost like an ’80s teen picture (though not a comedy).  It is girls going to the mall, using their sexuality and flirts to get favors, and lying to their parents…it then turns into a gritty drama that feels almost like a southern fried Flannery O’Connor story like “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”.  The turn gives the movie a real ethereal feel.

Smooth Talk isn’t as dynamic as people going into it might expect.  The movie could go a lot of ways, and despite what most likely happened, it ended up being the best potential outcome for Connie who easily could have ended up dead in the desert (like victims of the real serial killer Charles Howard Schmid).  It is a coming-of-age film with a darker edge than most.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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