Starlet (2012)

A Film By Sean Baker

Each year, a handful of independent titles are released with filmmakers hoping that both critics and audiences alike catch a glimpse of their project in amongst the clutter. This year, director Sean Baker’s Starlet should definitely be sort out, as this fly-on-the-wall style drama is clearly one of the year’s boldest, arresting and heartfelt indies.

Jane (Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway) who appears to be somewhat of a slacker, is a striking blond, 21 year-old who lives with her two stoner video-game playing housemates, Micky (James Ransome) and Melissa (Stella Maeve) in the San Fernando Valley, California. To brighten her room up, Jane one day decides to check out some local yard sales with her Chihuahua, Starlet. Along the way, she picks up a thermos at elderly widow Sadie’s (Besedka Johnson) home. When Jane decides to use the thermos as a vase, she discovers that a large sum of money has been stuffed into the flask for safekeeping. After Jane immediately goes on a small spending spree, her conscience kicks in and she attempts to return the cash to 85 year-old Sadie. Here, a unique but unlikely bond develops between the two women with several startling long-held secrets emerging as their relationship deepens.

'Has the camera gone off yet?'
‘Has the camera gone off yet?’

Starlet is a terrific, highly believable character-driven drama as it weaves an intriguing tale of two very different women whilst exploring themes of love and morality along the way. Delightfully shot, ablaze bright with sunlight, the film sports a very homemade, washed out-look, in addition, director Sean Baker, Gerg the Bunny (2002), has adeptly chosen to keep non-diegetic sounds to a minimum, adding to the genuine aesthetic of the overall production. Anchoring the picture are two very talented women, Dree Hemingway, who gives a strikingly real performance as Jane, while elderly newcomer Besedka Johnson, (who sadly passed away a few months ago at the age of 87) adds an earnest touch to the film; both leads play beautifully off one other and as their relationship grows, achieve some truly heartfelt moments.

The film does however have a couple of slight drawbacks, particularly when a shocking revelation is made at the midway point, which leads into a rather gratuitous sequence with a series of shots that some might find too extreme to stomach. Other than shock-value, this sequence serves little purpose narrative wise, so it’s hard to recommend this otherwise terrific title to everybody, as Starlet may be a difficult sit-through for some. Baker’s open-ended finale also doesn’t quite give the picture as much closure as one might hope, leaving audiences free to interpret film’s final moments however they see fit.

'Do these shoes go with this outfit?'
‘Do these shoes go with this outfit?’

Overall, this is confident, engrossing storytelling for the most part, which deserves praise thanks to its two terrific leads Hemingway and Johnson. Sean Baker has produced a warmly sincere film with Starlet, stressing the importance of friendship and highlighting that goodness is measured by one’s actions and thoughts and not by one’s profession or appearance.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Starlet is released through Music Box Films