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The Essentials: Smooth Talk (1985)

A free-spirited 15-year-old girl flirts with a dangerous stranger in the Northern California suburbs and must prepare herself for the frightening and traumatic consequences. (PG-13, 91 min.)


Wednesday, August 21, 2024

7:00 PM

This monthly series showcases essential films everyone should see on the big screen.
The Essentials series is Free for Members.

Suspended between carefree youth and the harsh realities of the adult world, a teenage girl experiences an unsettling awakening in this haunting vision of innocence lost. Based on Joyce Carol Oates’s celebrated short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” the narrative debut from Joyce Chopra features a revelatory breakout performance by Laura Dern as Connie, the fifteen-year-old black sheep of her family, whose summertime idyll of beach trips, mall hangouts, and innocent flirtations is shattered by an encounter with a mysterious stranger (a memorably menacing Treat Williams). Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Smooth Talk captures the thrill and terror of adolescent sexual exploration, and it transforms the conventions of a coming-of-age story into something altogether more troubling and profound. [Criterion]

Starring: Laura Dern, Mary Kay Place, Treat Williams
Director: Joyce Chopra
Genre(s): Drama, Romance, Thriller

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"An assured debut, and a lean, searing adaptation of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates."

— Ela Bittencourt, Mubi

"A remarkably fine film about the muddle of emotions that separates the child from the adult."

— Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"The film’s power is enormous throughout; spare means (long-held closeups, a four-minute take of sisterly confessions) evoke a drama that seems to have been filmed holding its breath."

— Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Nearly everything that is right about Smooth Talk would have been impossible to obtain by conventional Hollywood film- manufacture. The film's appeal, including that of the performances, is in nuance and intermediate shades. That appeal is considerable, another reminder of the possibilities of the American independent film."

— Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

"The shiveringly memorable Smooth Talk may be the first film to get adolescence in America right, down to the last, delicate seismographic tremor. What it knows about the age will scare adults to death, because these film makers remember , as clearly as Joyce Carol Oates did when she wrote the short story from which 'Smooth Talk' was made."

— Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times