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,
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