Shirlee Kenyon, a down-home country girl who, through a series of mistakes, is hired as a radio talk show host. Her show is wildly successful but her success is based on the lie that she is actually a clinical psychologist. She has to learn that giving advice and following it can be harder than she thought.
Shirlee starts off in the film as a dance instructor living in Arkansas. After she is fired for giving advice to her clients rather than teaching them dance, she attempts to convince her boyfriend to move to Chicago with her. After he declines and then belittles her, she decides to move there herself.
Once she arrives, she is standing on a bridge enjoying the view of the city when she accidentally drops a twenty-dollar bill. As she climbs over the rail in an attempt to retrieve the money, Jack (played by James Woods) sees her from his office window. He is a reporter for a Chicago newspaper. He thinks she is trying to commit suicide, so he runs out to rescue her. As he attempts to grab her and save her, Shirlee almost falls and drops the money she was trying to recover. After they recover, she complains that he caused her to lose the twenty dollars. Jack tries to give her money, saying she needs it more than he if she is willing to risk her life to retrieve it. She refuses and the two part.
Shirlee goes on many different job interviews, and finally lands a job as a switchboard operator. After a few hours on the job, she inadvertently walks into a recording office, and the manager mistakes her as the new radio therapist. He puts her on the air and she completes a show before being fired by the producer once he comes into the office. However, once the radio station boss demands that Shirlee be the new radio personality, then Alan is forced to find Shirlee and convince her to do the show. Shirlee accepts the position, but there is one condition: she must agree to pretend to be a real clinical doctor. She reluctantly accepts and becomes a popular radio figure as "Doctor Shirlee."
Jack, the newspaper reporter, suspects something when he realizes the woman ready to risk her life for twenty dollars is a doctor. Although his boss doesn't agree, he pursues the story. He begins to date her. They begin to fall for one another when Shirlee's boyfriend from Arkansas comes and tries to get her back. His attempts fall short, and Shirlee and Jack wind up making love. Afterwards, Jack develops true feelings for her and refuses to publish a story about her. Shirlee finds out that he was trying to write a story, and although she is angry, the two eventually wind up together. Shirlee finally confesses to everyone on air that she is not a real doctor and leaves the show. All of her listeners call in and want her back. Someone calls the show and tells everyone listening to honk their horns if they want Doctor Shirlee back. Jack shows up on the same bridge where they met and convinces her to take him back. When she hears the horns, Jack tells them that they are for her. She eventually goes back to the radio show, but wants to be called just "Shirlee."
The vast majority of this film was shot in historic downtown Lemont, Illinois. The "Flank Center" building was used to house the dance sequence scenes in the beginning of the film. Both Dolly Parton and James Woods ate at local establishments during filming off times. Most filming occurred in the early hours of the morning with the usage of high intensity floodlights to depict daytime. This was done to reduce interference with the general public who crowded the streets throughout the weeks of filming. The bar in the raining scene, Tom's Place, and the Barber Shop are still open with some small movie memorabilia.
- Dolly Parton - Shirlee Kenyon
- James Woods - Jack Russell
- Griffin Dunne - Alan Riegert
- Michael Madsen - Steve
- Deirdre O'Connell - Lily
- John Sayles - Guy Girardi
- Teri Hatcher - Janice
- Spalding Gray - Dr. David Erdman
- Jerry Orbach - Milo Jacoby
- Amy Morton - Ann
- Philip Bosco - Gene Perlman
- Charles Fleischer - Tony
- Keith MacKechnie - Gordon
- Jay Thomas - Zim Zimmerman
- Paula Newsome - Ellen
- Tracy Letts - Sean
- John Gegenhuber - Waiter
The film received mixed reviews, with much of the praise going to Parton and Woods's performances, while at the same time criticizing the story itself.
Straight Talk opened at the American box office in the number 4 position, grossing $4,575,746. The movie spent four weeks in the box office charts and grossed $21,202,099.