Straight Talk (1992)

Straight Talk has been sitting on my shelf, part of a Mill Creek set along with VI Washawski, just taunting me, knowing that someday, somehow, someway that it would end up sitting in my DVD player, ready to cast its magic spell.

Writer Craig Bolotin often worked uncredited on films like Desperately Seeking Susan before writing this film. He’d go on to also write and executive produce Black Rain. This one was directed by Barnet Kellman, who is more well-known for his TV work.

The real draw, of course, is Dolly Parton. She plays Shirlee Kenyon, a dance instructor wallowing in Arkansas with her boyfriend, who is played by Michael Madsen. Yes, in the same year that he played Mr. Blonde, Madsen was the backwoods drunk beau of Dolly in a movie that no one remembers.

But he’s not the love interest. Oh no, that’d be James Woods, who plays a crusading reporter who has lost his way. He saves Dolly early in the film when she tries to fish a Jackson off a bridge. Then, of course, she talked a young Teri Hatcher into dumping Mr. Woods, who of course falls for our girl, who falls into a job as a talk radio psychotherapist.

She’s not a doctor, you may yell. Guess what, pal? You just realized the dramatic issue here. Can Dolly keep the job she’s best at? Will Woods divine her secret? Will Madsen screw it all up? And what the hell is up with this amazing supporting cast, which boasts Griffin Dunne, Tony Award-winners Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Philip Bosco, Jerry Orbach, John Sayles (yes, the man who wrote PiranhaThe Howling and Battle Beyond the Stars), Spalding Grey in a cameo as a rival shrink, Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit’s voice), Jay Thomas (who was a real radio man himself and plays Zim Zimmerman here)?

It’s also Ron Livingston’s screen debut. So it has that going for it.

Seriously, Straght Talk is way better than it seems that it will be. I don’t think that it presents the right path to radio — it completely rips off an old WKRP In Cincinnati episode’s plot, too — but it’s a quick movie that’s helped by Parton’s limitless charm. Yep — I’ve been front row for several of her shows and an unabashed fan, so your mileage may vary.

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