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For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 12, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: The United States Film Festival in 1986 had not yet morphed into the Sundance Film Festival, though that year the new name wasn’t far away. In the festival’s early days, Robert Redford’s mantra that it was for independent filmmakers outside the Hollywood mainstream was fulfilled by raggedy films that sprang out of the life experiences of on-the-down-low filmmakers who were working with an unknown cast and a small crew. A few years later, however, the majority of these independent productions began to look slicker and managed to corrall name actors to participate. But it made them no less authentic. Such is the case with ‘Smooth Talk,’ a largely forgotten film that should get a resurgence thanks to the Criterion Collection reissuing it in a Blu-ray edition with the usual copious bonus features. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 7, 1986.

“Smooth Talk” was the grand prize winner at the 1986 United States Film Festival, a well-deserved award for a coming-of-age film that could teach Hollywood a few things about how to portray teenagers on the screen.

Laura Dern, who gave a superb performance in “Mask” last year (she played the blind girlfriend of Eric Stoltz), is equally fabulous here as a 15-year-old girl lazily spending a summer with her friends, asserting her independence toward her parents, and discovering her own sexuality.


   Mary Kay Place, left, Laura Dern, 'Smooth Talk' (1986)

The film spends its first two-thirds or so focusing on Dern’s interactions with her family and friends in scenes that are low-key and honest, very telling and very real, but without tremendous dramatic thrust. That’s not a criticism, however — this is a slice-of-life film, one that builds through the reality of its little incidents. And there are many.

Then the final third of the film has Dern encountering a dangerous, threatening stranger (Treat Williams), who lures her off in his souped-up automobile.

Beyond that there is an open ending that leaves much of what has happened to our own speculation. That’s obviously a deliberate choice; director Joyce Chopra wants us to think about it, and there’s no question that you will once you’ve seen this movie.


More than what it actually says, however, “Smooth Talk” hangs on what it implies, and anyone with teenagers at home will immediately recognize the accuracy with which this film tells its story. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a scene or moment here that doesn’t ring true – and some of it is rather scary.

The performances are terrific, from the aforementioned Dern, balancing tenuously between womanhood and childhood, to Williams, loaded with more sensual, electrical energy than you’ve ever seen him possess before. The supporting performances, particularly Mary Kay Place as Dern’s mother, are also on the mark.

“Smooth Talk” rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual innuendo, is a disturbingly accurate look at adolescence and the scars it leaves on both children and adults. And it’s a film you won’t soon forget.