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|Index||19 reviews in total|
"Starlet" is an absolutely lovely, unique film which I recommend
without reservation. Masterfully directed by Sean ("Greg the Bunny")
Baker, it stars Dee Hemingway, the daughter of Mariel, who plays Jane,
a rather aimless but very sweet, very young, very pretty Angeleno who
drifts through her life with two somewhat repellent roommates and a
cute male Chihuahua named Starlet.
Things change when Jane buys an old thermos bottle at a yard sale and discovers ten grand hidden inside. The rest of the movie has to do with her relationship with Sadie, the old woman who held the yard sale (played by octogenarian Besedka Johnson, making her film debut!), and Jane pursuing her part-time job.
I won't say more, because the journey is worth taking. Hemingway and Johnson are a fantastic team. Jane and Sadie are an odd couple as odd, unexpected, and ultimately moving as any I've ever seen. The film is unpredictable and eye-opening and funny and poignant. I loved it.
Starlet is a character study very much in the spirit of films from the
70s. I think the director was influenced by the likes of Hal Ashby and
A young, slightly aimless woman who has just moved San Fernando Valley, buys a vintage thermos flask at a yard sale from a cranky old lady and discovers $10.000 inside. After making a half-hearted attempt to give it back, she keeps the money, but then feels guilty and tries to befriend the old woman, who remains guarded to the point of hostility at the prospect of having her life disrupted.
The film doesn't ever resort to cosy indie movie clichés about the old passing on their wisdom the the young and life lessons being learned. It also doesn't exploit the young woman's line of business for cheap melodrama, as lesser films would. Both lead performances are wonderful and a cute dog always helps.
The film looks and sounds gorgeous and the director has a knack for what to show us and what to leave out. It's another good case for digital film-making. Talented independent film makers can now make great looking films for peanuts, which is just as well considering Hollywood has almost completely given up on making films for adults.
BTW. the trailer makes this look like another anodyne "heart warming" indie, full of laughter and whimsy, when really it's a much more melancholy, ambivalent and subtle film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
STARLET (2012) **** Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, James Ransone, Stella Maeve. Remarkable big-screen debut for filmmaker Sean Baker and his incredible star, Hemingway (Mariel's daughter) as a blissfully unaware young up-and-coming porn star in sun-baked Cali who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly woman (equally amazing 'newcomer' Johnson) after purchasing at a yard sale turns out a cache of hidden money instilling a sense of guilt - and for her first time - responsibility enacting her to get close to the off-putting octogenarian. With almost an improvisatory pseudo-docu/verite style thanks to Baker's collaboration on an original screenplay with Chris Bergoch, the film slowly deepens its main characters with enough empathy and also cringe-worthy moments of anomie (namely the impressively nasty Maeve as Hemingway's skeezy roomie). Heartfelt, heartrending and poignant as all-get out with enough sentiment, humor and plain honesty rarely seen in film today. A true gem sleeper. Kudos to the adorable Chihuahua pup pet of Hemingway's :D
STARLET is a bold and original independent film. It's not afraid to go
places most indies would shy away from, mostly due to not landing a
distribution deal etc. That is just one of the many reasons why STARLET
has true independent spirit.
I saw STARLET at SXSW earlier this year and it was the most exciting narrative to come out of the fest. Sean Baker is a fearless filmmaker that has already established himself with a diverse body of work. He's one I'll be watching for a longtime to come.
And of course this short review/praise would be incomplete without mentioning the breakthrough performance by Dree Hemingway. You could tell she had complete faith in Baker and it showed in her performance. It's a risky role that she seemed to handle gracefully.
STARLET is a film that challenges it's viewers. It challenges our prejudices and preconceived notions, but it does so with a heart.
Honorable mention: The brilliant, and almost effortless, performance by the dog, "Starlet".
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will start with the unnecessary (but not necessarily negative)
interjection of the adult film industry theme into this film which I
feel detracts somewhat from the ultimate story. It is not that adult
film performers don't have normal emotions but it just seems
distracting from the ultimate story, which is simply the emotional bond
that forms between a young woman with an aimless lifestyle and good
heart who confronts her own guilt about a wrong she commits against an
old woman by undertaking her version of atonement for that wrong.
The plot is deceptively simple, a young woman discovers $10,000 hidden in a thermos flask she buys in a yard sale from an old woman. She then confronts the moral dilemma and guilt of keeping the money and ultimately decides, after hearing that the old woman she bought the thermos from does not need the money, to spend the money primarily on making the old woman happy and seeks out the old woman's companionship. This premise, and the skillful mining of that premise, is expertly accomplished by the talented cast and director.
One or two commenters say the theme has been done before. But what theme or plot has not been done before? It is the trip itself that is the reward and the viewer is treated to good acting, crisp and insightful scripting,and a wonderful ride.
Another commenter thought the ending was abrupt and uncertain. It was anything but. The old woman at the end after learning of the money, in a masterful and understated ending showed her forgiveness for the young woman's guilty errors and heartfelt atonement, and showed her closeness and feelings for the young woman by indirectly disclosing her deepest personal secret through the simple act of asking flowers to be placed on a grave.
I have to think hard to come up with a more masterful ending to a movie then the subtle ending of this low-key immensely entertaining indie film. Highly recommended.
A good movie about a young, energetic, friendly woman who, as a result
of various circumstances, befriends a lovely, somewhat grumpy old lady.
Not very original, as you've probably already surmised, there have been
tons of movies, and TV shows covering the same relationship dynamic,
and quite possibly the same basic outline. Some of those good, others
bad, still others horribly bad and cliché, this however is 1 of the
good 1s. The acting, directing and story-line were all good, resulting
in a mellow, slow paced film with tiny peeks of highs and lows.
It's shot in suburban L.A. and has a distinct L.A. feel to it, at least it did to me, in the neighborhoods, the mountainous backdrops and perhaps too in the characters. I suppose that might not be really important, but I like to get engrossed in he cities and countries I see in movies.
The 1 bad thing I'd have to say about this movie though would be the ending, it seemed really abrupt, I assume the director/writer wanted us to mull over the last scene as we finished he movie but really it just left you wanting to see that scene/conversation played out and wanting the words that were implied to actually be spoken.
Overall a good movie, not great but good.
STARLET (dir. Sean Baker) When 21 year old Jane discovers $10,000 in cash stuffed in a thermos that she bought at an old woman's yard sale, she tries to do the right thing and return the money. However, the old woman didn't know about the money (her long dead husband might have hidden the cash), so Jane befriends elderly Sadie in order to pay off the karmic debt. Because Jane's unusual occupation is not revealed until the film is almost half over, her illicit employment does not affect the natural relationship that grows between the two woman. A fine Independent film, and Dree Hemingway (Jane) and Besedka Johnson (Sadie) deliver exception performances. It must be mentioned that Jane's pet Chihuahua in the film is powerfully cute! Worth A Look.
My Wife and I watched the at home last night, and wanted to extend the
experience with IMDb audience, so I dug into the back story, -- those
who made the film in all capacities and other comments such as this. I
loved these people in the film, and wanted to extend their
"relationship" for as long as possible. The film, rather than being a
scaffolding for dramatic tension, was a minimalist plausible story to
allow the two main characters, one nearing the end of her life and the
other at the beginning, to connect. The occasion for the meeting while
unusual, advanced the plot without overpowering the story.
I have just viewed this short video interview of the two leads, Basedka Johnson, who played the elderly Sadie, and Dee Hemingway who portrayed Jane. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsFjMldSSnE If you loved the film, watch it.
If the profession of casting is discovering individuals who encompass the genuine emotions of the fictional characters of a drama, then this was an inspired example of the art. No looking through face shots or previous performances for casting Sadie, as an executive director recognized her character in the women next to her at a local fitness center, and uttered the mythic Hollywood words, "You could be great for the lead part in a film we are making." This is further discussed in the video I reference. Not exactly the best time of life to get such an opportunity, but Basedka jumped at it, with the due caution of her age.
I'm not sure that this magnificent film actually represents the finest example of the actors craft, which at its best can only be a close simulation of reality. What I felt watching the film, and now have confirmed by the single video of the two, and there will be no more since Basheda died soon after at 87, are two people of independent minds who have genuine affection for each other. Those who wrote, directed, edited and contributed to creating this film had the sense and restraint to provide a serviceable vehicle for this to be played out without any undue interference.
They have allowed millions of people to be with two genuine people and their characters for a brief time, who in both realms come from very different backgrounds, yet who share a common humanity. Even the usually seedy world of pornography became just what they did for a living, rather than defining them any more than any other occupation.
For someone much closer to Basheda's age than to Dee's, it is inspiring that she toughed out those last years, and was able to take the surprise of instant fame before it was all over. There are levels of this film that I still haven't been able to fully internalize, much less describe, which is a sign of a work of art that affects the viewer in ways that defy explanation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This darkly funny and warm-hearted indie struck me the right way,
although if you're easily offended it may not be for you. It can be
quite sexually explicit at times with very raw language throughout.
Set in Los Angeles, Dree Hemingway, whose screen presence and mannerisms remind me so much of her mother Mariel, stars as Jane, a young woman who decides to give her room a make-over. She starts to buy items at various yard sales, one of which is a large thermos that she purchases from an elderly woman named Sadie. Sadie is magnificently portrayed by Besedka Johnson, who has a remarkable personal story as well that I read on Wikipedia. This was her first movie, as she was discovered working out at a gym at the age of 85. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year.
In the thermos Jane purchased she discovers after bringing it home that it contains thousands of dollars in rolled up hundreds. She's undecided as to how to handle this, and at one point brings it back to Sadie but is rebuffed before she can say much by the irritable woman.
Jane finally decides to keep the money, but also decides in very clever ways to insert herself into Sadie's life, to help her with errands or in any way she can. This remarkable possible bonding between the two is the real heart of the movie, and I thought extremely well scripted and presented by the director Sean Baker, who also co-wrote the script with Chris Bergoch.
We don't find out till about half way through the film that Jane is a porno actress, as is her emotionally volatile housemate Melissa, ably played by Stella Maeve. They're both sharing the house with Melissa's boyfriend Mikey (James Ransone), who seems like a nice guy but has no guilt about selling drugs, pimping, or shooting porno movies to raise cash.
When Jane goes to work on the set is where the scenes can be quite sexually explicit, and they don't leave much to the imagination. There's also, as mentioned plenty of nudity and raw language as well.
The surprise ending I thought was very poignant and touching, in my opinion. Of course, let me not forget Starlet, the incredibly cute Chihuahua of Jane's. He's a rescue dog and won my heart early on and he becomes an important part of the film as well.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this indie that I picked up at my local library.
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