Smooth Talk comes to Criterion with a brand new, fantastic 1080p HD transfer from a 4k restoration and a great mono audio mix. The film plays out like a coming-of-age comedy but is actually something much more terrifying as a young Laura Dern plays a young teenager, exploring her body and emotions where she crosses paths with someone that wants nothing by to destroy her innocence. With several hours' worth of extras, this Criterion release is a MUST-OWN!
Kids and especially teenagers yearn for content and input from many mediums. Their minds are in a constant state of need for entertainment or attention from their peers and strangers. Boredom can be easily reached in a teenager where their facial expressions convey that urgency for something to happen or longing for someone to notice them. This is the case with Connie (Laura Dern) and her friends in Joyce Chopra's 1985 film Smooth Talk that plays like a coming-of-age comedy but is something much more tragic and important with the events that lead to a loss of innocence and transformation upon its heroine.
Connie is a 15-year-old girl whose beauty and need for attention is the number one goal. She looks 21 but is much younger than that both physically and emotionally, but that doesn't stop her or her friends from going to the mall and hitting up the bathroom to bathe themselves in makeup and walk around, flirting with men of all ages around them. Connie also doesn't get the nurturing or love at home, as her parents would rather spend more time wondering about their older daughter. When Connie's mother gives her money to spend at the mall, she makes extremely snide and rude comments towards her youngest daughter, removing any sense of motherhood or love from their relationship, while her father tends to play the stupid card whenever there is conflict and would rather leave the house instead of confronting these necessary and poignant life lessons.
But as the scorching, Northern California sun beats down upon Connie and her friends and those long summer afternoons with nothing to do grow, Connie and her pals start to hit up Franks, a local diner with older men that provide better and raunchier attention than those younger boys at the mall. Connie knows exactly what's she's doing but has never experienced that touch or kiss before. When this "magic" moment happens, she is uncomfortable and runs away, revealing her young and immature feelings, although she puts on a more adult surface. For a while, Smooth Talk is a glimpse through the life of a young teenager who is exploring her sexuality and flirtatious nature with friends in public, but that stops suddenly when an older guy who calls himself Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) shows up on Connie's doorstep.
The film switches genres and begins to showcase its roots which are based on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates in 1966 that was inspired by the Tuscon murders committed by the serial killer Charles Schmid. This being the case, Chopra never allows the film to cross into horror territory or even the dark thriller region. Instead, Smooth Talk explores a sinister path of persuasion and emotional abuse that is ever-present and relevant today, where someone of power uses corrupt psychology to coerce someone else into doing something they don't want to do. And that's where Arnold Friend comes into play.
Arnold (Williams) is a most despicable villain in that his outer shell seems to be playful and flirtatious, but he's anything but when he shows up at Connie's house where her whole family has left her home alone. His objective is to destroy her innocence by lying to her about his age, pretending to know the same music she loves, and stating that they will in fact be lovers in the slimiest of ways. Chopra never reveals what happens, but in those final moments of the film is something more intense and tragic than an actual rape scene. It's a complete loss of innocence and happiness that will plague Connie for the rest of her life. Chopra brings that confidence and true nature of the human psyche to the forefront instead of something that could have been easily thrown into horror sensationalism with torture and gore.
Treat Williams is excellent as the dirtbag in this film, but Laura Dern is simply phenomenal in this very realistic role as she struggles with her parents' idiocy on how to raise and care for their children and her sense of exploration as her body and mind grow into a harsh adult world. Smooth Talk is one of those rare films that leave a lasting impact some decades later and is just as an important film today as it was some 36 years ago.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Smooth Talk flirts its way to Blu-ray from Criterion with brand new video and audio transfers. The disc is housed in a hard, clear plastic case with spine #1068. There is a Criterion booklet that is fully illustrated, which includes cast and crew information, tech specs, an essay, articles about the serial killer, and a NY Times article about the film. The new artwork is phenomenal and hand-drawn that features Laura Dern and Treat Williams.
Smooth Talk comes with a brand new 1080p HD transfer with its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. According to the Criterion booklet, this is a new digital transfer that was created in 16-bit 4K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed, which give this film its new, impressive look.
The color palette is wonderful with this new transfer with bold colors in the 1080ps wardrobe, swimsuits, and brighter colors they wear when at the mall. They all look well-balanced and saturated to a flawless degree. The film uses a ton of natural light that looks amazing in each shot. When the light creeps in through the dark house or even the diner, every prop and character is well lit with the appropriate amount of lighting revealing great detail. There is a nice layer of film grain that keeps its filmic expressions and gives way to an almost fantasy-like image of those slow-burn summer afternoons in California. It all looks amazing.
The detail on the actor's faces reveals individual hairs, makeup applications, and freckles very well. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are always natural. There are zero video problems including aliasing, banding, video noise, or stabilization issues to speak of. This is the best the film has ever looked since its debut in 1985.
According to the Criterion booklet, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 35mm dialogue, music, and effects track and presented in this LPCM Mono mix. It's a rather soft-sounding track in the way there are no big explosions or gunshots, but rather just dialogue-driven scenes between two people. James Taylor's music direction does hit some high notes, especially at the drive-in and when Treat Williams shows up, but it's never blaring or loud.
When at the mall or diner, there are some good atmospheric sounds of people talking and sound effects that are appropriate to the location that can be heard with well-balanced smooth sound transitions, but again, it's all located on the front speaker. For the film it is, this is a great-sounding and revamped audio mix that has exceptional sounding dialogue that is free of all issues.
There are about 286 minutes of bonus material here, including new and vintage interviews with the cast and crew of the movie, articles about the serial killer that inspired the story here, trailers, and that famous Criterion Booklet.
Smooth Talk is a fantastic film that plays it one way but is something much deeper and scarier below its surface. Laura Dern is the perfect actress and Chopra is an amazing filmmaker who showcases true horror without going down the normal and usual terror trope. With brand new, remarkable video and audio presentations and a wealth of new and old bonus features, this Criterion release is something special. MUST-OWN!