I have a memory that endures far more than seems reasonable of my colleague of the radio show that feaured this review showing up as the station with a cassingle of “Straight Talk,” the song Dolly Parton released in conjunction with the film of the same name. We always tried to get appropriate music to accompany the reviews, so he now had this item in his collection, and I assure you it’s unlikely it would have arrived there in any other way. 

There are several significant things that can happen to a film when Dolly Parton is cast in it. Every somber scene of heartbreak can be easily punctuated with the slow, sad strum of country-pop song, a certain amount of deep-fried Southern wisdom is bound to slip in, and when the closing credits are crawling by and you see the crew member called “Dolly Grip”…well, you wonder about what that person does a little more than you would with another film. And, if the filmmakers are lucky, Parton will be able to bring some of her sweetness and sassy appeal to the role she’s been asked to fill. In that respect, the makers of STRAIGHT TALK are occasionally quite fortunate.

In the film, Parton has just gotten a receptionist job at a major Chicago talk radio station. When she wanders through the wrong door, she winds up being thrown on the air as psychologist Dr. Shirlee, the host of an afternoon call-in show. Parton doesn’t have any credentials, but she’s a hit by confronting her callers’ problems with good old fashioned common sense. The station’s program director, played by Griffin Dunne, shields her interviews and perpetuates the lie that she’s a qualified therapist. When newspaper reporter James Woods begins investigating her background, he finds himself falling in love with Parton. Their romance is standard and predictable…you can see every twist and turn coming from the very beginning.

More interesting is the film’s attempt, albeit half-hearted, to explore the potential damage in over-the-air psychology. Especially good is the appearance of a woman who claims her marriage was ruined by Parton’s wisdom. Through personifying the downside of flippant advice, Parton’s subsequent monologue on the harm she’s caused in given more heft. Sure, this was all covered before in an episode of “WPRK IN CINCINNATI” that was better and funnier, but STRAIGHT TALK has its moments of insight as well. If it had dug deeper into the issues it raises and avoided the obligatory, mindless romance, the film might have been able to deliver more than it does. As it is, STRAIGHT TALK is a mildly mausing, amiable piece of fluff that squanders its spark of potential.

2 stars, out of 4.

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