SMOOTH TALK (1985) Heavily butchered adaptation of grim stage play.

smoothtalk_usposterTheme Song: A Bunch of Shitty Songs by James Taylor.

Interesting Dated References: Dudes in their late 20s hitting on high school girls. Oh wait, that’s not dated at all.

Best Line: Uttered by teenage girl — “I could hardly walk. I was like a war veteran.”

Social Context: I’m sure the short story upon which it’s based would be of better use for gauging social context. The bottom line, of course, is that people should be aware of sexuality in young women/girls and what it does to men with predatory instincts. Something else can be said for the story’s implications that children are in too big of a hurry to grow up.

Summary: Just looking at this box I already don’t feel like watching this movie. I’ve always hated Laura Dern and thought she looked like she was permanently 35, so watching her attempt to play a 15-year-old sounded grueling. I’ve also never been into Treat Williams, although I couldn’t tell you why. Most of all, I don’t like the musical styling of James Taylor, and announcing that your movie features “Music By James Taylor” seems to be a last ditch attempt at getting my mom to rent your movie.

So, for 50 minutes we watch Laura Dern and her much younger looking friends run around the mall, hang out at the hot dog stand, flirt with boys, behave loudly, rebel against their parents, and dress in brightly colored potato sacks that they call “pants.” This is all fine and dandy and has a pleasant campy element to it. Dern does a good job with the role and despite my distaste for her looks, I am enjoying this film. She goes through the typical coming of age bullshit most girls do with their mother by being all loud and shit. And that’s how the movie goes until Treat Williams shows up as the insane yet handsomely lecherous Arthur Friend.

Smooth Talk is based on a Joyce Carol Oates short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The story was inspired by the authors readings on famed serial killer Charles “Smitty” Schmid. Schmid was a killer in the early 60s who killed a few teenage girls whose trust he gained by dressing and acting like a teenager.

That brings us up to speed with the background of the script and Treat Williams’ arrival. Connie’s family goes away to an afternoon barbeque and Connie stays home because she is being rebellious. Shortly afterward, Arthur Friend shows up. Williams plays the role much like Martin Sheen played Kit Carruthers in Badlands, which kind of seems out of place for a movie that is supposed to take place in the 80s. In fact, the first part of the movie seems totally separate from this second part of the movie. For the next 30 minutes, Arthur Friend stands outside Connie’s house trying to persuade her to take a ride with him. It gets pretty psychological as he plays different mind games with Connie. Tension and threats mount, including Friend threatening her family, and eventually she gives in. The next scene is them sitting in a field and it’s insinuated he either raped her or they had consensual sex. It is never really clarified. After that he drops her off, at which point her family has arrived home. As Connie walks down the drive, she looks all shaken up and is either traumatized, or crushed by the reality of the adult world. Things are wrapped up in a nice little package when her mother apologizes for being mean to her and then Connie and her sister dance to James Taylor after she confesses she “didn’t do anything today.” Then the credits role.

According to the internet, this ending is much more different than the book which paints Friend as slightly more menacing. The book also ends with her getting in the car and driving away, insinuating she will be killed. Unfortunately, the happy ending of Smooth Talk shits all over the entire moral of the story. I can’t say I really know the work of Oates, but she did comment on the issue: “(The movie ends) not with death, not with a sleepwalker’s crossing over to her fate, but upon a scene of reconciliation, rejuvenation.” Who the fuck uses the word “sleepwalker” in a sentence?!? In effect, what we get is a less powerful version of the story.

Poster and Box Art: The poster for this movie is actually a well illustrated drawing that, despite its pink and purple color scheme, really looks nice. The artist perfectly captures Treat Williams thick eyebrows. However it would only attract women and young girls to watch the movie.

Availability: Yup, DVD.

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