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Film / Smooth Talk (1985)

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Smooth Talk is a 1985 drama film directed by Joyce Chopra, loosely based on Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?". It stars Laura Dern as Connie and Treat Williams as Arnold Friend.

Connie, a teenage girl living in Northern California, spends the summer before her sophomore year of high school flirting with boys and hanging out at the mall with friends instead of helping her mother repaint the family farmhouse. Connie's growing need for independence is the catalyst for the adversarial relationship between mother and daughter. One day, Connie's innocent excursions are turned upside-down when she has an encounter with a mysterious stranger.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic Category at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival.


Smooth Talk contains the following examples:

  • Acceptable Feminine Goals and Traits: The film can be seen as a deconstruction of the cultural expectation that "girls should be raised to be nice and agreeable", which only leaves women vulnerable to harm and possible violence. Connie is left with a catch-22 situation between being seen as desirable and being in danger.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's left unclear as to what Arnold Friend does to Connie; although she survives, she is changed by the experience.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Connie and her mother Katherine clash over the former's perceived immaturity and self-centeredness.

  • Bitch Slap: Katherine slaps Connie when her daughter complains that her mother set a poor example herself by getting pregnant at a young age.
  • Book Ends: A James Taylor song is heard at the beginning and end of the film. "Limousine Driver" is heard during the opening, and "Handyman" at the end.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Arnold himself appears at the burger restaurant behind Connie, pointing at her and saying "I've been watchin' you."
  • Coming of Age Story: Connie is a teenage girl caught between childhood and womanhood. The film is about her exploring her sexuality and the effects that come with that.
  • Daddy's Girl: Connie gets along better with her father as opposed to her mother, the latter whom she is constantly clashing with.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Boy-crazy Connie and her friends head to the mall to scope out and flirt with boys. In one scene, the camera pans to guys' butts after Connie makes a remark about them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Arnold starts out as charming and seemingly harmless, but gets progressively more sinister and demanding as he tries to coerce Connie.
  • Foreshadowing: Jill stops by Connie's house and tells her some guy on the road stopped to ask about her. Connie asks if the guy's name was Jeff, whom she was with the previous night. Jill says it wasn't, but before they can discuss it further Connie gets up and goes to play a song on the record player.
  • Genre Roulette: The film runs the gamut between coming-of-age teen drama, Psychological Horror, and even a thriller.
  • Irony: The James Taylor song "Handy Man", which appears throughout the film, speaks of sweet things and fixing broken hearts. It's quite out of step with the events of the film, where Arnold Friend doesn't engage in sweet talk, instead using coercion and threats, while Connie's never had a broken heart.
  • I Want My Mommy!: While huddled in a corner of the hallway as Arnold starts to enter the house, Connie cries to herself about wanting her mom.
  • I Warned You: From the beginning of the film, Connie's flirtations result in her either getting what she wants, or receiving unwanted male attention, which is initially played for laughs and is more or less harmless. But after butting heads with her mother over her going out at night to meet guys, Connie experiences a scary incident that marks a turning point in her life.
  • Karma Houdini: Even though Connie's life is spared and she goes home, Arnold Friend gets what he wants out of her.
  • Lipstick-and-Load Montage: There's one early in the film of Connie and her friends prettying themselves up at the mall, all to the tune of James Taylor's "Is That The Way You Look?"
  • Local Hangout: Frank's, the roadside burger stand.
  • Meaningful Name:
    Arnold: I wanna introduce myself. I'm Arnold Friend and that's my real name. And that's what I want to be to you, a friend.
  • Mirror Monologue : Connie practices pickup lines in the bathroom mirror.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first hour of the film feels like a standard coming-of-age dramedy, but things do take a turn in the third act.
  • Mysterious Watcher: Arnold is first seen checking Connie out and observing her through the diner windows, but we don't learn of his identity until the second half of the film.
  • Parental Favoritism: June, Connie's well-behaved older sister, appears to be the favorite. Connie‚Äôs mother emphasizes June is an angel to a friend right in front of Connie.
  • Setting Update: The film is updated from The '60s to The '80s.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Arnold Friend's big scene is under 25 minutes during the last half of the film, but it's a menacingly memorable one.
  • Sneaking Out at Night: Connie and her friend Laura use the excuse that they're going to the movies as a cover for hanging out at the burger stand after dark. Later, they're caught in a lie.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Connie is still alive at the end of the film, unlike the ambiguous fate in the short story.
  • Stalker Shot: Early scenes of Arnold show him observing a blissfully unaware Connie at the diner, coupled with some POV shots.

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