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STARLET explores the unlikely cross-generational friendship between 21 year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway), and the elderly Sadie (Besedka Johnson), two women whose worlds collide in California's San Fernando Valley. Jane, an aspiring actress, spends her time getting high with her dysfunctional roommates, Melissa and Mikey (Stella Maeve and James Ransone), while caring for her Chihuahua, Starlet. Sadie, a widow, passes her days alone, tending to her flower garden. After a confrontation between the women at Sadie's yard sale, Jane uncovers a hidden stash of money inside a relic from Sadie's past. Jane attempts to befriend the caustic older woman in an effort to solve her dilemma and secrets emerge as their relationship grows. Director Sean Baker continues in the naturalistic style of his previous films, the award-winning and Spirit Award nominees PRINCE OF BROADWAY and TAKE OUT, capturing the rhythms of everyday life with an authenticity rarely seen in cinema. Featuring a pair of ... Written by
Twenty-one year old Jane (Dree Hemingway) is a porn actress simply trying to make ends meet in a cruel world, living with her two deadbeat roommates, one of them a fellow actress. After purchasing a vase from an older woman and finding over $10,000 inside, she decides that the least she could do is try and befriend the woman to provide some resemblance of joy and happiness in her life. I suppose friendship is the least you can offer someone after taking the money they didn't know they had.
The woman is eighty-five year old Sadie (Besedka Johnson), who spends her days calmly and in a true state of loneliness, tending her garden and quietly playing bingo at a senior's center. Meeting each other is a generational shock for the both of them in a way that doesn't revolve around the expected political/social norm changes. Instead, the details are shown just by the way they communicate and adapt to their own lifestyles accordingly. Jane would much rather go out of her way to get something more than textbook happiness, while Sadie feels disturbing consistent flow is a personal sin she can not commit.
Sean S. Baker's Starlet is a sweet, tender little story detailing a generation gap that I love to see explored. It's a film, too, that boldly shows a lifestyle in a way that isn't comical or condescending. While the adult film industry only makes up a small part of Starlet's overall focus, it nonetheless makes its view on the industry respectable and mature. The maturity of director Baker, even as he treads dangerously close to smug depiction, remains visible throughout making this a truly sentimental work.
The film is carried by the gifted performances of Hemingway and Johnson, who strike up a valuable, potent chemistry when they're on-screen together. Hemingway's brash qualities and aware attitude contrast boldly with Johnson's reclusive, control-freak persona, making for a relationship that is erected from more than smiles and good-feelings.
Baker adopts the style of filmmaking known simply as "cinéma vérité," a style that heavily emphasizes the brutally honest, naturalistic side of life in filmmaking. I mention it here because the texture and look of the film plays a big role in its likability. Visuals are often mild and possess a sunny disposition, the filmic atmosphere is accentuated beautifully through the use of lens flare and flushed-out colors, and the warmness comes off as not a put-on, but a comforting feature.
There are moments in Starlet that hold deep, uncompromising emotional drama, mainly in the scenes at bingo, where a coldly detached Sadie is left staring at her bingo card as if she really cares what the odds are. There's emotional honesty in the scene because we can see she is not really happy and Jane knows it as well as the audience does at that point. The scene is beautifully captured and scored perfectly so as not to be too mawkish or too downplayed.
Ultimately, Starlet ends the way we kind of expected and its presence is more significant than a footnote but not so much as a genre-piece or a game-changing masterwork. It's short, simple, but above all, an effective illustration of emotion and tone as a coming of age story and a slight meditation on age and its downsides. It provides warmth and heart in its material, but most importantly, an unmissable soul as it shows both generations in full bloom and the naive impulses they give off that often prevent entire personal connection.
Starring: Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson. Directed by Sean S. Baker.
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