Dolly Parton sweeps the windy city off its feet as a radio "psychologist" dispensing down-home wisdom in STRAIGHT TALK, a pleasant but lackluster romantic comedy from Hollywood Pictures.
Shirlee Kenyon (Parton) gets fired from her smalltown dance hall and fed up with her oafish boyfriend, Steve (Michael Madsen), on the same day. She moves to Chicago and, in response to a want ad for a radio station receptionist, stumbles into a studio where a newly hired shrink has failed to show
up for air time. Shirlee gets mistaken for the missing psychologist and takes over the show, charming callers and listeners alike with her common-sense advice. The problem is that the station owner, Gene Perlman (Philip Bosco), has insisted on a bona fide Ph.D. to fill the slot, so the groveling
station manager, Alan (Griffin Dunne), makes Shirlee over into "Dr." Shirlee.
Shirlee's ascendance attracts the attention of reporter Jack Russell (James Woods), who had bumped into her soon after she arrived in Chicago and knows the truth about her "credentials." Getting close to her in preparation for an expose, Russell instead falls for Shirlee and quits his paper rather
than write his story. Shirlee, meanwhile, has had enough of living a lie, especially when it seems that some of her pat advice has caused a family breakup. On her premiere show for a nationwide radio network, she confesses the truth and flees the studio. Overwhelming popular demand, however, leads
Shirlee back to her job and back into Russell's arms.
A half-baked attempt at Frank Capra-style sentimentality, STRAIGHT TALK is a populist comedy without any people in it. Despite being continually reminded of Shirlee's runaway popularity, the most we ever see of her fans is in one half-hearted street-crowd scene. Though filmed on location in
Chicago, the film feels cramped and setbound. The performances are competent all around, but never inspired. The usually intense Woods makes little impact and even the ever-ebullient Parton seems barely interested. Dunne is funny, perhaps because he's the only character in the film with any
In short, STRAIGHT TALK plays like a TV pilot (which should come as no surprise, since director Barnet Kellman also guided MURPHY BROWN through its first three seasons). In typical pilot fashion, the film introduces its key characters, concocts some mild complications to be unwound by the last
reel and sends everyone home smiling. But it also seems to be holding back, as if it were getting ready for a long run. It has no real lows, but no real highs either; it has some cornpone humor, for Parton's core audience, but never turns into "Hee Haw"; Parton's songs can be heard over the
soundtrack, but she never actually sings; STRAIGHT TALK has conversations sprinkled with effective one-liners, but it stops short of wit. And it is never, ever, pointed. In this context, the idea that Shirlee is single, sexually active and unapologetic about it seems downright subversive.
STRAIGHT TALK is yet another Hollywood attempt to recapture the feel of a vintage studio film, in this case a Capra comedy. But the result is so bland and toothless that it makes even mediocre Capra feel fiery by comparison. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG
- Review: Dolly Parton sweeps the windy city off its feet as a radio "psychologist" dispensing down-home wisdom in STRAIGHT TALK, a pleasant but lackluster romantic comedy from Hollywood Pictures. Shirlee Kenyon (Parton) gets fired from her smalltown dance hall and… (more)