Blu-ray Review: Smooth Talk [Criterion] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, June 9th, 2023  

Smooth Talk

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Feb 24, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

A coming-of-age story, ‘80s nostalgia, and a thriller collide in Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, adapted from a short story by famed author Joyce Carol Oates. At the center of the film is Connie (Laura Dern), a 15-year-old girl focused on hanging out with her friends, chasing after boys, and living up her summer vacation to the fullest. For the most part, she achieves these “goals,” spending practically every day either at the mall or hitchhiking out to the beach with her two best friends, Laura (Margaret Welsh) and Jill (Sara Inglis).

Between her constant social life and her typical, teenage girl home life where she bickers non-stop with her strict mother (Mary Kay Place), the film’s first act sets the film up as a generic 1980s movie. This all begins to shatter as Connie’s flirtations go a step too far, catching the attention of a mysterious stranger (Treat Williams).

Very few films can make a tonal switch as effectively as Smooth Talk. The first half of the film focuses on trivial matters, but at the same time, it’s a continuously entertaining story in which the viewer becomes invested. In the last 30 minutes of the film, everything flips on its head. As the mysterious stranger becomes more present in the story, Smooth Talk transitions from an airy dramedy to subtle thriller extraordinarily quickly. It’s an uncomfortable and thrilling, yet entertaining experience to watch unfold. While this is an abrupt switch, it is not one that ever feels rushed or unwelcome. This is a testament to Oates’ short story, Tom Cole’s adaptation, and the film’s enigmatic performances.

Smooth Talk is one of Laura Dern’s best, and most underrated, roles. While all of the performances in the film are incredible, the Academy Award-winning actress shines in every single scene of the film. She truly exhibits both the teenage dream and the teenage nightmare that her character embodies. She is able to transition back and forth between a light and breezy performance to a more serious and tense one within the blink of an eye, perfectly selling the film’s intense tonal switch in the final act. Smooth Talk is 100% Dern’s movie from start to finish, and wouldn’t be half as effective without her booming presence.

Additionally, Smooth Talk has aged well as a near-perfect time capsule of 1980s American culture. There are so many moments in the film that wouldn’t work half as well without the iconic backdrop of the decade which assists in its storytelling. From the always packed malls filled with popular shops to the crowded diners and parking lots filled with loiterers deep into the night, the film benefits from its setting.

The Criterion Collection’s 4K transfer of Smooth Talk, which had its initial premiere at last year’s New York Film Festival, looks absolutely fantastic. Besides a few shots that could use a bit more touching up, the high quality visual and audio bring the film into the modern day. The physical release comes a stack of supplements, which benefit from the film’s recent re-release. Some of the highlights include a conversation with Joyce Chopra, Joyce Carol Oates, and Laura Dern from after last year’s festival premiere, conversations with the film’s other actors, three of Chopra’s short films, and the original short story the film is based on.



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