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Straight Talk

Directed by Barnet Kellman. Starring Dolly Parton, James Wood, Griffin Dunne, Spalding Gray, Jerry Orbach.

REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., April 10, 1992

The first time I heard, Dolly Parton's My Tennessee Mountain Home album, was sitting in Everett Larson's living room, filled with books and records, in Bartonsville, Vermont. Since then I've been a fan, taken in not only by her talent, but her charm and humor. Unfortunately, over the years, as charming as ever, Dolly has commodified herself, to the point where individual identity is lost. Her best songs have usually transcended this because her voice hints of desperation and passion. 9 to 5 was a cartoon, a farcical take, with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as fellow working stiffs. It was so obviously not real that it was fun. But in a one-on-one romance, Dolly has always fizzled because we no longer believe her as a human being and we no longer regard her body as just a woman's body but as something greater than that (there's even a breast joke, Woods saying “Holy Moley” when he first sees her naked), not in spite of the way Parton promoted herself, but because of it. This makes romance ludicrous. Straight Talk is an all too familiar Hollywood take, hick comes to town, in some way or another the hick is embraced by the city and the reporter who sets out to exploit the hick ends up in love (for male hick/female reporter see Mr. Deeds Comes to Town, female hick/male reporter see Nothing Sacred). In this case, the thrice-divorced-from-the-same-man, Parton leaves Small Town, Tennessee for Chicago where through a series of coincidences she becomes Dr. Shirlee, host of the top-rated talk show in town. Only, she's not a doctor and everyone thinks she is. Woods, as the reporter who sets out to expose her, and Parton are both delightful. Dunne also turns in a fine performance, but ultimately a screwball comedy rises and falls on its romantic heat and this just doesn't generate any. Kellman's narrative pacing and scene build-ups are bizarre, the film doesn't focus enough on Dr. Shirlee as talk show therapist and too much on the swirl of events driving the picture forward. But imagining Woods sleeping with Parton (and we're shown none of their physical intimacy) is like imagining someone sleeping with Mickey Mouse. It really doesn't make for romance.
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