Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 1986
Fifteen-year-old Connie Wyatt (Laura Dern) may be too young to drive, but she’s already driving the boys crazy. Her suspicious mother (Mary Kay Place) wants to keep her safely at home, but free-spirited Connie would rather while away the languid summer days hanging out with her friends and flirting with boys at the local burger stand. But when she flirts with an older, handsome and predatory stranger (Treat Williams), she isn’t prepared for the frightening and traumatic consequences.
Smooth Talk, as film, holds a rich pedigree. Produced on a relatively shoestring budget in 1985, the film was based upon prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates’ stirring 1966 short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”—a staple in college literature courses. Smooth Talk stars a lovely Laura Dern in her first ‘big’ role. Dern plays a young woman, Connie, who is at the difficult time in her life when she is making the transition between girl and woman. She meets a attractive yet slightly scary older man played by Treat Williams. The direction by Joyce Chopra, as well as the fine acting by Ms. Dern and Williams, make this film rise above what could have been a fairly pedestrian effort in lesser hands.
Upon its limited theatrical release, the picture was met with wide critical acclaim, and ultimately went on to be nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards. Legendary musician James Taylor, the film’s music director, contributed three tracks to the soundtrack, including “Limousine Driver” (an original song) and Taylor’s top ten hit from 1977, “Handy Man”. Smooth Talk film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1986.
“Smooth Talk” has seemingly fallen by the wayside in the two decades since its release. It’s a shame. The film, written by Tom Cole and directed by Joyce Chopra, is an American masterpiece of modern cinema, at once a blisteringly truthful coming-of-age story, a haunting morality tale, and an uncompromising portrait of the alternately dark and light underpinnings of life as seen through the eyes of a female adolescent.
Laura Dern is brilliant as Connie, self-assured and vulnerable in equal measures, able to look like a child in one moment and like a worldly woman the next. The character arc that Connie has from the first scene to the last is incalculably huge, and Dern is breathtaking as she navigates the excitement, the loneliness, the alienation, the acceptance, and the fear that come with the territory of one’s teenage years.
–Conversation among Chopra, author Joyce Carol Oates, and actor Laura Dern from the 2020 New York Film Festival, moderated by Turner Classic Movies host Alicia Malone
–New interview with Chopra
–New conversations between Chopra and actors Treat Williams and Mary Kay Place, moderated by Malone
–New interview with production designer David Wasco
–KPFK Pacifica Radio interview with Chopra from 1985
–Audio reading of the 1966 Life magazine article “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” which inspired the short story by Oates
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