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The short story that this is based on ends on a *much* darker note than the film...
The character of Arnold Friend was actually based loosely on Charles Howard Schmid, Jr., or "Smitty" aka "The Pied Piper of Tucson" who killed teenage girls in the 1960's. "The Pied Piper mimicked teenagers in talk, dress, and behavior, but he was not a teenager-he was a man in his early thirties. Rather short, he stuffed rags in his leather boots to give himself height." (from an article by Joyce Carole Oates) The rags made him unsteady on his feet.
A free-spirited 15-year-old girl trapped in the body of a 25-year-old
woman (Laura Dern) flirts with a dangerous stranger (Treat Williams) in
the Northern California suburbs and must prepare herself for the
frightening and traumatic consequences.
I had moderate expectations for this film. I figured anything from the 1980s, which was a thriller and had Laura Dern could not be awful. But, you know what, it was actually rather disappointing. Other than maybe ten minutes of suspense, it is basically a movie about a teenage girl and her friends hopping and being generally irresponsible. Nothing to see here.
In 1985, this might have been something groundbreaking, but today (2017) it comes across as a Lifetime movie of the week. I suppose it is a good film to see for James Taylor fans, but otherwise you're not missing much.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A story of a teen ager edging into maturity. Laura Dern is
idiosyncratically beautiful as the 15-year old. She's long legged,
deeply tanned, has flowing blond hair that sets off her dark brows and
lashes. The problem is that she IS only fifteen. Another year, one way
or the other, would be a misjudgment for the writers of this film.
Fifteen is just right, half way between ten and twenty, a liminal age.
She's uncertain about how to behave. The Generalized Other keeps telling her that she looks as good as she in fact does, but like most adolescents she's absorbed by the issue. She smiles into the mirror and asks, "How do I look?" a dozen times.
Her days consist of fibbing to her parents (Levon Helm and Mary Kay Place in one of her best performances) -- portrayed as fairly reasonable folk here. Dern hasn't been at the movies as she claims. Instead she's been hanging around the mall, squealing with delight and disturbing the shops with her two or three girl friends. There are times when, gulp, she hangs at a HAMBURGER JOINT and gossips.
She's wary with the several boys who come on to her. "Just not used to being excited," she tells one of them after a bout of necking. At home, things are also at a tipping point. Her sister isn't nearly as glamorous and is jealous, though not bitter. Her Dad is marginal to the family, a nice guy with a vapid smile. Her Mom, Mary Kay Place, is an ordinary mother trying to keep house and trying to enlist Dern's help in household chores such as painting the house and doing the dishes, but Dern is snotty and defiant.
About two thirds of the way through I was about to offer my assistance as a family counselor. I know nothing about the subject, but like everyone else I've been through the Sturm und Drang of adolescence while trying to establish an identity outside the family.
But then a queer thing happens. A convertible pulls up in front of the family farm house while Laura Dern is alone. She's dressed in a sexy but chaste white outfit. The young man behind the wheel, Treat Williams, looks like a parody of dangerous youth left over from the 1950s. He wears aviator shades, his tight, already short-sleeved shirt has its sleeves rolled up to his triceps, exposing half a tattoo. The shirt is unbuttoned to his sternum. His dungarees are dusty and so are his boots.
This is a smooth-talking guy. He is a stranger to her but knows everything about Dern, her family, and her friends. I can't tell whether he's seductive or not. He didn't turn me on. But I can tell that his character is SUPPOSED to be. He's mysterious and a little dangerous. His technique is the same as Charlie Manson's -- I KNOW what you're feeling. He tempts Dern, talks her into taking a drive in his long, shiny, phallic beast. She goes reluctantly. There is a pan of the empty convertible parked in the mountains, leaving the viewer with no more than a suspicion of where the pair are or what they're up to. When they pull back into Dern's driveway, she tells him, with genuine determination, that she doesn't want to see him around here -- ever again. He smiles, says, "Hey, nothing happened", and the mean machine scootches off. Dern walks into the house where she finds her family just returned from the picnic. Now she's polite and forgiving to all of them. In the last scene, Dern dances with her homely sister and they chuckle together.
It was during that last scene when I noticed that Dern's bedroom wall was decorated with a rather sizable poster of James Dean. This raises a host of questions, which can be boiled down to just one. Was this episode with the mysterious Treat real or fantasized? Answer: I don't know.
Obviously the Treat character serves a symbolic purpose. Her family nudges her towards ordinary respectability, but Treat demonstrates the joys of misbehavior. She faced with a choice. And in the end, she chooses her family and accepts responsibility. It's easy to visualize Dern's future. She grows up to be a stewardess with hopes of marrying an airline pilot.
What luscious photography. What apple orchards. What a neat farm house with a sloppily lived-in appearance. It's hard to imagine how the performances could be improved upon, except for Levon Helm who smiles all the time as if playing a "nice guy" for an audience. And, as I say, I couldn't get with Treat Williams as a character and so only barely with his acting. Maybe it's not his problem. How do you play a stereotype convincingly? Overall, though, this is a smooth-flowing movie that doesn't pound its audience over the head with anything. And though it's definitely a portrait of a young woman's life, it's not a teen movie. I don't know that kids of fifteen would not be bored by the sometimes oblique dialog, the lack of action, and the near absence of sex. The film requires the kind of patience that I'm not sure mall rats have any longer. Paradoxically, this is a story about youth that adults might appreciate more than the subjects of the story themselves.
I understand that the film is based on a rather darker and more ambiguous story by Joyce Carole Oates who, in turn, was inspired by some Southwestern psychopath, but I can only assess what's been put on the screen.
It's a cautionary tale from the rich old white men of Hollywood (and from
JCO, whom I've never quite trusted anyway): Women, don't leave the house!
It's a dangerous world out there!
Starts out as a quality flick, and it captures *perfectly* this totally giddy, intoxicating stage of life where you're a kid in an adult body, kissing boys and buying sexy clothes.
Then it becomes practically every movie ever made, and the young woman is punished terribly for her sexual curiosity. So terribly that we infer she will wind up a reclusive old maid, like her sister, and stay living with her parents til a very late age indeed.
I call it Thelma and Louise syndrome. Will someone please give me a movie about a strong woman, in charge of her life and her sexuality, who is not physically or spiritually killed in the end? Sheesh!
Such a cliche, I know. But it was better--much more powerful. I agree
those who say that the screenwriter shouldn't have monkeyed with the
As it is, the ending is a trite piece of moralistic crap.
The original ending was powerful, indeterminate, and disturbing. The story, BTW, is based on the murderous career of Charles Starkweather (I think it was) back in 1950's Texas. The character of Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) is Oates' take on this serial killer. Except that now he's not a serial killer.
I agree with those who say that the acting is very well done, particularly by Laura Dern and Treat Williams. And the screenplay sticks close to the story until the very end. God knows who is responsible for the change. It could be the screenwriter, or it could be the producer or director (or their girl/boyfriends). It seems, tho, that Oates, as co-screenwriter, went along with the change. Maybe she just didn't want to be difficult.
The original story was both disturbing and subtle, with a lot of effective symbolism. I recommend it.
a masterpiece. enriched. Treat William's is haunting and Laura Dern gives
the best performance of her life. brls!the rules which all good moving
the last 45 mins you are held captive, as is Dern in a scene that doesnt want to seem to end
and we are better for it
and then the last subtle note. I'm not giving anything away but when Dern's Character say's to her sister... "nothing happened" if you like a film you can talke about afterwarz this is it
ST came out the same time !!Breakfast Club!! wasz enchantingzz the teen world, yet it is it (ST) that speaks at such a level it's a shame most missed it and opted for the nother (lesser by miles)
art house of the 80s
Does this film have any point? Any plot? Does it make ANY sense to any one? I do not recommend this movie, this movie left us feeling very disturbed, to say the least. This movies only known purpose is to stupefy its audience with its perplexed meaning (if there actually is a meaning at all) For anyone who actually pretends to understand "Smooth Talk" one only has to watch the film with to prove them wrong. I seriously question weather even the actors in this movie could make sense of it. Watch with Caution, if you bother to watch at all.
Laura Dern's character, Connie, is a spoiled, rebellious, selfish teen who has nothing on her mind but boys and fun. Her attitude alienates her from homelife and family which leads her straight into trouble. This was a good portrayal of how young people fritter away their time chasing after their own useless future when they could be preparing for a better life. Connie is a victim of her own parents apathy, just as they were victimized by their parents inability to guide and prepare children. Very good film.
I recently watched this movie in my Creative Writing class. I keep reading these other reviews and you all are saying that the acting is excellent. Are you serious? Laura Dern and Treat Williams are quite terrible actually. It was so bad that this is pretty much the only movie that you can find yourself making fun of practically every single line in the whole movie. My class had an absolute field day with this flic. A couple of our "favorite" parts had to be when Williams, a.k.a. "Arnold Friend" rolled up to Dern's house and started going nuts when his music kicked up...yeah, a little creepy...Or when he opened the door and swung out on it. Yeah, real smooth Arnold. What did me in was when Arnold freaked out on Ellie (the freaky dude in the car) whenever Ellie talked. Arnold went from deep-voiced/seductive creep guy to a little girl when he screamed at Ellie to stop ruining everything. I think it's about time we grew up, Arnold. If you haven't seen this movie, then keep it that way. Your IQ will probably drop about 10 points if you do.
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