Insomnia File #32: Smooth Talk (dir by Joyce Chopra)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning last night, you could have turned over to This TV and watched Smooth Talk, a disturbingly creepy coming-of-age film from 1985.

Connie Wyatt (played by Laura Dern in one of her first film roles) is fifteen years old and ready to discover the word.  It’s the summer and, for Connie and her friends, that means going to the mall, trying to capture the attention of the cute boys who go to their school, and lying to her parents about where she goes at night.  (She tells them that she and her friends have been going to the same movie, night-after-night.)  She likes it when the boys in the mall smile at her but not when the stranger honk their car horn at her whenever she walking at night.  Connie thinks of herself as being an independent adult, even though she’s not sure what that means.

Connie does know that she doesn’t want to be like her mother (Mary Kay Place).  Her mother, who claims that she was once a great beauty herself, complains that all Connie does is indulge in “trashy daydreams.”  Her mother tells Connie to be careful about who she flirts with and constantly demands that Connie stay home and help to paint the house.

Connie also doesn’t want to be like her older sister, June (Elizabeth Berridge).  June is obviously her mother’s favorite.  June never sneaks out.  June never rebels.  Whenever Connie and her mother argue, June always take their mother’s side.

In fact, the only member of her family that Connie’s close with is her father (Levon Helm).  Her father is always cheerful and always in a good mood.  Somehow, the constant tension in the house never seems to get to him and he never seems to be worried about anything.  He’s nice but he’s hardly an authority figure.

And then there’s an older man (Treat Wiliams).  When we first see him, he’s sitting outside of a diner and casually watching all of the teenage girls as they walk by.  (We all know the type.)  When he sees Connie and her friends, he looks over at Connie and tells her, “I’m watching you.”  Later, when Connie is alone at her house, the man pulls up in front of her house and starts to talk to her.

His name, he explains, is Arnold Friend.  “A. Friend,” he puts it.  That’s what he wants to be to her.  When she asks how old he is, he says that he’s 18, though he’s clearly closer to 30.  He’s handsome and he’s charming but there’s something off about him.  He shows Connie his car.  “Arnold Friend” is written on the side.  “33, 19, 17,” is written on the back.  Written next to a dent: “A woman driver did this.” Sitting in the car is a friend of Arnold’s, a man who hides his face behind a portable radio.

“He’s strange,” Arnold explains with a sly smile, before suggesting that Connie get in the car with them…

Smooth Talk is based on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates and, oh my God, is it ever creepy!  The first half of the movie plays out like a typical coming-of-age teen film but then Arnold shows up in that car and the film turns into a nightmare.  I spent almost the entire movie cringing, mostly because I once was Connie Wyatt, the only real difference being that I was even younger when I decided that I understood how the world worked better than my parents and I started rebelling.  As I watched the movie, I found myself wondering what I would have done if Arnold Friend had pulled up in front of my house.  Would I have gotten in the car or what I would have run back into the house, locked the door, and called the police?  I’d like to think I would have done the smart thing but … no.  Doing the smart thing would have meant admitting that the adults were right and there were situations that I couldn’t control or even really understand.

Laura Dern was 18 years old when she played 15 year-old Connie and she gave an amazing and naturalistic performance.  When Treat Williams first appeared as Arnold, I thought that he was overacting but, as the film progressed, I came to see that he was actually perfectly cast and giving exactly the type of performance that the movie’s story needed.  Arnold Friend, who speaks in outdated slang and always seems to be trying just a little bit too hard, has to be a slightly ridiculous figure because otherwise, no one would drop their guard enough to get into his car.  As I watched the movie, I realized that it was a mistake to think of Arnold as being a human being.  Instead, he’s a nightmare come to life.

Smooth Talk was a deeply unsettling film about growing up in an increasingly dangerous world.  It’s right up there with Out of The Blue, Christiane F, and Blue Velvet among nightmarish coming-of-age stories.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal

4 responses to “Insomnia File #32: Smooth Talk (dir by Joyce Chopra)

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review — 2/12/18 — 2/18/18 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Insomnia File #33: The Comedian (dir by Taylor Hackford) | Through the Shattered Lens

  3. Pingback: Insomnia File #34: The Minus Man (dir by Hampton Fancher) | Through the Shattered Lens

  4. Pingback: Insomnia File #35: Donnie Brasco (dir by Mike Newell) | Through the Shattered Lens

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.