The realistic coming of age film, “Smooth Talk” was based in part, on the short story “Where Are You Going, “Where Have You Been” written by Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction and National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates (Them). The story was first published by Cornell University in 1966 in their literary magazine Epoch. Oates was inspired to write the story after she read the article “The Pied Piper of Tucson” by Don moser, which was published by Life Magazine on March 4, 1966. The article dealt with killer Charles Schmid, who murdered three people, two of whom, were his girlfriend and her sister.
The film open with three teenage girls on a deserted beach. As they relaxed throughout the day, each of them, at different times, fell asleep. The girls are worried. They weren’t given permission to go to the beach by their parents. One of the friend’s mothers is picking them up, and they need to get back to the mall in time, so that none of their parents find out that they snuck off. The three friends consist of fifteen year old Connie. portrayed by Oscar winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story); Laura (Margaret Welsh); and Jill (Sara Inglis).
The film centers on Connie. She lives at home, but considers it boring and yearns to be anywhere else. Her mother Katherine, played by Emmy winner Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), had asked Connie to pick up a few paint rollers from the mall. The self-centered Connie forgot to do so, but rather than offer a sincere apology, she points out that her mother has been engaged in the house painting for a long time and has gotten nowhere. Harry, Connie’s father, a role acted by three time Grammy winner Levon Helm (Ramble At The Ryman) is an easy going man, who seems to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Connie’s sister June (Elizabeth Berridge), comes across as a tattletale, all too pleased, when given a chance, to point out one of Connie’s indiscretions.
Connie and Laura are at an age where they are interested in boys. Jill is still a bit guarded around them. The film takes place in Northern California during the summertime. School is finished for the next few months and the girls have seemingly no responsibilities. While they sometimes go to the movies, more often than not, they sneak across the street to the local burger stand. It’s there that Connie and Laura can talk to guys. (As an aside: One of the guys that Connie talks to is Jeff, played by William Ragsdale, who should be familiar to fans of the horror movie “Fright Night’ and the television show “Herman Head’).
One evening, an attractive, mysterious stranger speaks with Connie. His name is Arnold Friend and he is portrayed by three time Golden Globe nominee Treat Williams (Prince of the City). Friend is smitten with Connie and he talks with her for a few moments, before she leaves. He lets her know, however, that it won’t be the last she’ll be seeing him.
One afternoon, while Connie’s parents and sister are away at a barbeque, Friend shows up at Connie’s house. He is insistent that she go for a ride with him, but she is reluctant. Connie makes up excuses. She lets him know that her parents will be home soon, but Friend seems to know exactly where he parents are and what they’re doing. What will or can Connie do to keep herself safe?
“Smooth Talk” was directed by Joyce Chopra (Music Lessons). The screenplay was written by Tom Cole (Streets of Gold). The movie premiered on September 10, 1985 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Furthermore, while on the festival circuit, “Smooth Talk” would win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Parts drama, romance, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. Emmy winner James Glennon (Deadwood) served as the cinematographer on the film. The music was composed by six time Grammy winner James Taylor (American Standard).
The movie, like the short story, doesn’t present any clear cut answers, both are open to the reader and film watcher’s interpretation. For example, there has been speculation from both readers and film watchers, that Friend doesn’t exist. Instead, he is a manifestation from the mind of a young, vulnerable girl, who wants to be an adult and possess all of the privileges, in her mind, that being of a certain age entails. At the same time, however, she can’t abandon the last vestiges of her childhood innocence, where things, for the most part are relatively safe. In the end, each reader and film watcher can come to their own determination as to what was real, or what was no more than the daydreams of an overactive imagination.