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|Index||27 reviews in total|
This film showed the arrival of Laura Dern, one of the most gifted
actresses of her generation, to full realization. Under Joyce Chopra's
direction, Ms. Dern proved she could carry this picture, as well as any
other, just on the strength of her portrayal of Connie, the rebellious
California teen ager, who experiences life and cruelty in ways she
If anything, the film might send some viewers to read some of Joyce Carol Oates novels for she is an original and important voice in American letters. Ms. Joyce is a prolific and generous writer who shows a sensibility toward young women in trouble, as it was the case with her magnificent "We Were the Mulvaneys", among other novels.
When we first meet Connie, she seems to be a careless teen ager from rural California, hanging in the local mall with her best friends Jill and Laura. There is trouble at home. Connie is a rebel and her relationship with her mother, Katherine, is not exactly the best. Connie is seen with Laura experiencing with local boys the rituals of flirting.
Connie gets much more than what she bargains for, when the mysterious Arnold Friend keeps turning at the hamburger joint where she hangs out with Laura. Arnold is a creepy individual who, being older, and more experienced man in matters of sex, shows up one Sunday, while her family is away, to entice the young girl with his "smooth talk". This long sequence shows Connie as the vulnerable young woman she is, accosted by a young man intent in getting what he wants.
To say that Laura Dern is perfect in the film, is not to do her justice. She is the whole movie. Her expressions, her reactions, are nothing short of what one would expect from a young woman in the same situation. Treat Williams makes a great appearance as the menacing Arnold. Mary Kay Place, as the mother is also good, as well as the rest of the ensemble playing cast.
Joyce Chopra shows she is a director who likes to takes risks by creating an original film out of Ms. Oates short story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Adapted from the short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You
Been", by Joyce Carol Oates; this slow paced and moody film is for
those who like introspective stories where you spend a lot of the
viewing time in self-analysis rather than character identification. The
mood is complemented by a lot of James Taylor on the soundtrack with
"Handyman" repeated several times.
It is also one of those "axe to grind" films where fans of the short story feel compelled to whine about the adaptation not being faithful to their interpretation of the book, although Oates endorses it without reservation on her website. Any non-readers considering viewing "Smooth Talk" would be wise to remember the source when reading negative comments from this group.
To reach feature length it was necessary to expand on the short story and to dramatically depict events that are just briefly mentioned in the original version. Everything is still told from the point-of-view of 15-year-old Connie, increasingly estranged from her mother and marveling at her new-found attractiveness to boys. Fans of Laura Dern who have not seen this should seek it out as she gives an remarkable performance, arguably her all time best. Perfectly cast physically as a gangly coming of age teenager Dern plays Connie with such restraint and awkward hesitancy that anyone with acting for the camera aspirations should view this simply as a perfect example of the power that can be produced by underplaying a character.
The ending is restrained as well, making it unexpectedly powerful and haunting. They go out with Connie and her sister slowly dancing to "Handyman", leaving the viewer to process what has been shown and what has been implied.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
This film is one of the most realistic "coming of age" films I have seen. In fact, parts of it gave me deja vu when I remembered the summer of my 15th year when my best friend and I first discovered we were attractive to men and didn't know quite what to do with that knowledge, as we made the transition from "little girl" to "woman." The main character, Connie, is clearly torn between wanting to bond with and be a part of her family and wanting to exert her independence, and trying to balance all of her roles as she grows up. The best part of the film - which is a small moment actually, but very powerful - is when Connie plays James Taylor's Handy Man and her mother listens to it in another part of the house - that scene shows that mother and daughter are both going through "growing pains." Although the ending was a downer, it is worth seeing the film for Laura Dern's brilliant performance.
Laura Dern is perfect as lanky lass in a small town sparring with her parents, estranged from her older sister, desperate to be liked and to be with boys. Opening moments of this adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"--with Dern and friends doing the mall--are realistic but nothing too original; second portion of the film, with Laura meeting smooth talking Treat Williams (who comes dressed like the James Dean poster on Dern's wall) is elongated and dry (you can almost feel the director's confidence slipping away). It's an encounter I didn't particularly care for, nor did I buy the rosy ending either. However, there are fine moments in "Smooth Talk", the most devastating of which lies in a conversation between Dern and indifferent sis Elizabeth Berridge (in a terrific performance): Dern recalls a vivid, lovely childhood memory between the two, but after listening and thinking it over, Berridge tells her, "I don't remember..." **1/2 from ****
I give this film a ten because it was very entertaining and thought
provoking. For years I have been trying to remember the name of it so I
could order the video to watch again. I saw it 20 years ago. I don't
remember all the details but I remember how much it touched me.
It was quite frightening, even at the age of 23. I never forgot the strength of Laura Dern's performance. It was incredible, defining. I have followed her career ever since. Treat Williams was also excellent. I don't want to risk a spoiler so I will just say he was a very convincing character.
I also believe it would be as meaningful today as it was in 1985. The relevance of this film is timeless.
"Smooth Talk" spends the first half of its run time developing the Dern character, showing her to be a typically (more or less) rebellious, angst-filled, brittle teen who is just discovering boys and dating when an unexpected encounter with a smooth talker (Williams) forces her to take a quantum leap toward maturity. A simple little serious-minded indie with a thin story and not so thin message, "SM" is a slow starter with a solid performance by Dern which will likely be most appreciated by females. B-
A few things I liked about this movie: It stayed fairly close to the
The terror element in the scenes between Connie (Dern) and Arnold Friend (Williams) were present, as were in the short story by Joyce Carol Oates.
Laura Dern's performance was excellent, as a young girl experimenting with flirtations as she becomes aware of her budding sexuality. But something happens one day...
Somehow, inadvertently, she attracted the attention of "Arnold Friend". (If you remove the R's from his name you find his true nature).
SHe's afraid to come out of her house...she's afraid to stay inside, because he'd come in and get her. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, the same way it did when I first saw Carole Kane pick up the phone to hear "Are you in the house alone?"
I also like the way a lot of the Symbolism of JCO's original story remains intact.
What I don't like:
Treat Williams should not have been cast as Arnold Ariend. It should have been played by somebody far less attractive, and far more creepy.
They changed the ending. fine enough, as it would be hard to recapture the ending as written by Oates. However, the new ending made no sense.
4 out of 5 stars ;-)
Since I read Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where
Have You Been?" many years ago as a teenager myself (many Oates' works
were translated to Russian - she was and I hope still is very popular
there), I've been fascinated by it. I've read many Oates's stories and
some of her novels but the 10 pages long story of 15 years old Connie,
"shallow, vain, silly, hopeful, doomed but capable nonetheless of an
unexpected gesture of heroism at the story's end" has stuck in my
memory and I could never forget it. When I found out that the story was
adapted to the screen, I tried to find the movie, "Smooth Talk" (1985)
directed by Joyce Chopra and I saw it finally last weekend. A
disturbing coming of age drama, the winner of The Grand Jury Prize at
1986 features 18 years-old Laura Dern who appears innocent, gawky, and
provocative all at once. Laura owns the film as a sultry woman-child
who just began to realize the power of her sexual attractiveness during
one long summer that would change her life forever. It does not
surprise me a bit that Dern's next movie would be David Lynch's "Blue
Velvet" where she played sweet and innocent Sandy and in a few years
she would play her best role, Lula Fortune in his "Wild at Heart"
(1990). The more I think of Laura, the more I see her as one of the
most talented actresses of her generation. She is fearless in taking
sometimes unflattering roles and she never lost that aura of innocence
wrapped in irresistible sexuality that made her Connie in "Smooth Talk"
so alive and unforgettable.
The links to the full text of the story and to the Oates' article about adapting it to the film are posted on the movie's message board. I was shocked to find out what the real story behind the fictional was.
I was impressed with Laura's acting and thought she portrayed the difficulty of dealing with coming of age in a touching and realistic manner. Her hormones outpaced her friends noticeably and that put her at odds with her closest friends and also made her the target of males far beyond her abilities to understand and defend herself from. My daughter is now grown and survived her teen years quite well. I thought of this film often during those years and am thankful she did not develop early and that she had sufficient parenting to avoid characters such as Treat played. I have not found this movie available on tape or disc and feel that that is a great loss.
A terrific lesser-known film that deserves a better rating than the one
given it here at IMDb.
Based on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates called "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", "Smooth Talk" stars Laura Dern as a bored and restless adolescent who thinks she's more in control of her sexual allure, and more capable of handling the attention she receives for it, than she is. In a deeply unsettling and slightly surreal scene, a hunky stranger (Treat Williams) comes calling for her, and she realizes that she's not as mature as she thinks. The film captures the same other-worldly quality of the short story (the scene with Treat Williams plays out almost like a feverish dream), while ably adapting it to the very different needs of a feature length film.
Dern gives a wonderful performance, one of the many given by this underrated actress. And another lovely performance comes from Mary Kay Place, who plays Dern's mother. One of the most memorable scenes for me came when mother and daughter are in separate rooms of the house, but unbeknownst to each other are both privately dancing to the same song playing on the radio. I can never hear James Taylor's "Handyman" without thinking of this movie.
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