Straight Talk is an amiable vehicle for singer-actress Dolly Parton, who plays Shirlee Kenyon, a former Podunk dance-hall instructor who leaves her dead-end job and a failed romance to find a new life in the big city.
Arriving in Chicago, with little going for her but homegrown common sense, Shirlee gets a job as a receptionist at a radio station. Through a quirky series of accidents, she ends up on the air, hosting a call-in advice show.
The listeners love her heartfelt, corn-bred advice, and Shirlee becomes the biggest talk show host this side of Oprah.
She feels guilty, though, because the talk show host “Dr Shirlee” is supposed to hold a doctorate, and Shirlee barely holds a high school diploma, and she must live a lie.
Things get complicated when an ambitious, hard-driving Chicago newsman (James Woods) smells the whiff of deception and tries to expose Shirlee. Further complications arise when they fall in love.
From Dolly’s songs (which act as off-screen narration) to the rousing by-the-people-and-for-the-people finale, Straight Talk is a modern-day Mr Deeds Goes To Town, with the mister now a miss.
The part seems tailor-made for Parton, making use of her country roots, her resilience and charm, and her spunk. She also offers an album’s worth of new songs. Most are entertaining and easy on the ears (in the 9 To 5 mode), but one attempt at an overly aggressive country rap offers more distraction than support.