“Sometimes a dog chases the wrong squirrel up the right tree.”
Dolly Parton (Gnomeo and Juliet) plays Shirlee Kenyon, a woman mistaken for a psychologist on the first day of her own radio show. Shirlee’s not surprised when the manager of the radio station fires her, but it’s hard to say who’s more amazed when her show is an immediate hit. Reluctantly accepting an offer to continue as host, even though she’s against telling people she’s a doctor, her popularity continues to rise. Shirlee struggles with the decision to come clean, a problem that’s compounded when she unwittingly begins dating a reporter (James Woods, Shark) who specializes in revealing scandals.
Coming off a successful string of hits including Steel Magnolias and Nine to Five, Dolly Parton took a chance with Straight Talk, as she hadn’t carried a film which was designed to be more of a mainstream romance. Luckily she once again found herself gifted with talented costars who helped share the burden. This go around she was fortunate enough to work with the always engaging James Woods and Griffin Dunne (Trust Me).
Straight Talk is definitely a product of its time. In today’s culture of oversaturation, one area that’s definitely not exempt is talk shows. People are famous simply for being famous and everyone blogs ad nauseam about their days. Thus a movie that combines talk shows and mistaken identities simply wouldn’t fly. Not only that but we love nothing more than to see our heroes fall off their pedestals. Any movie made today which even attempted to tackle similar subject matter would need to include the main character being humiliated. And what really dates the film is the key plot point: Dolly Parton being mistaken for a doctor, which our society long ago gave up demanding as a criteria for talk show hosts.
The fact that Straight Talk is so obviously a ’90s film is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. It has a re-watchability factor that ties directly to when it was made. For all that the movie rests on a case of mistaken identity, it’s still an amazingly straightforward story, one with lessons which bear repeating and continue to surface in other films. While a movie like Runaway Bride which offers up the same morals — be true to yourself, sometimes a fresh start is the best ending there is, and love will find a way — may have made a lot more money, I’d rather watch Straight Talk due entirely to its performances.
Dolly Parton carries this film, eminently believable as a small town woman who likes to forget her own problems by listening to others. She is evenly matched with James Woods, who offers a performance the tone of which I’ve never seen him duplicate. Outside of Hades in Disney’s Hercules, this may be my favorite of his roles. Through facial expressions alone, he’s able to portray the genuine struggle his character goes through when he finds himself falling for the subject of his investigation.
However, even the bit parts are cast well; from a cameo by Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) to a small supporting role by Jerry Orbach (Law and Order). No one chews scenery or acts above what their character calls for. Thus the script is allowed the best chance to duplicate the screenwriter’s original vision.
And while some may complain that Straight Talk is merely a vehicle for Parton’s songs — 10 of which appear in the movie and on the soundtrack — I didn’t find their placement to be jarring or that this was a step away from a musical. Let’s face it, Dolly Parton is always going to be known as a singer, and the fact that she wrote the songs specifically for the movie helps make their additions more cohesive. Plus, they blended well with Brad Fiedel’s score.
Straight Talk is given the full 1080p treatment by Mill Creek. The 1.78:1 widescreen image is well transferred, giving an overall look of realism, with a natural palette that leans toward subdued colors and just the right amount of grain to remind you you’re watching a movie. It’s unclear why the audio was only bumped up to DTS-HD 2.0, rather than the full 5.1 most HD releases receive. While it’s certainly more than functional, there’s a definite disconnect with with the upgraded visuals. The outdoor scenes especially lack depth which additional channels would easily correct. There are no extras.
While studios won’t be remaking Straight Talk anytime soon, this feel-good movie doesn’t rely on anything flashy to make its mark, but rides on the talents of its cast. At less than $10 for the Blu-ray, it’s worth the upgrade.