Smooth Talk

Joyce Chopra's independent feature plays uncomfortably like two movies jammed into one: the first is a slow, exaggeratedly naturalistic portrait of teenage alienation in the shopping mall culture of California, the second is a violent, stylized gothic shocker. Both films have their modest qualities; it's just that Chopra hasn't found an intelligible transition between the two very different approaches. Laura Dern turns in a meticulous, convincing performance as the vacant 15-year-old whose burgeoning sexuality calls forth a punishing demon in the form of a psychopathic drifter (Treat Williams); Levon Helm and Mary Kay Place fall into bland stereotype as her unaware parents. Based on a story by Joyce Carol Oates.

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