The bonds that can be forged by simple misunderstandings.
Jane (Dree Hemingway) is an actress down on her luck, short on cash, and in need of a new friend in her life, because her supposed one, Melissa (Stella Maeve), just ain’t cuttin’ it and her boyfriend (James Ransone), isn’t helping matters, either. But one day, Jane gets a surprisingly new lease on life and her apartment when she accidentally stumbles upon a wad of cash hidden inside a thermos purchased from an elderly woman at a yard sale. Conflicted, Jane takes some money for herself, but also makes attempts to befriend the old lady who sold her the thermos in the first place. The old lady turns out to be named Sadie (Besedka Johnson) and although she doesn’t quite know what the hell Jane wants with her, she’s not totally against her wanting to hang around with her day and hearing all of her stories of the good old days. It not only adds a little more hope to Sadie’s later days, but gives Jane a newfound love and appreciation for the sometimes unfortunate, and rather disturbing, life she currently lives.
Cause who knows? Maybe it will all get better.
Sean Baker does something brilliant here in Starlet, and while it’s no doubt a small aspect of the film, it’s a glaring example of why he’s one of the best writers and directors out there today. At the center of the film, we have Jane, a relatively idiotic woman who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a job, or even a career; she spends most of her time at home, smoking pot, yelling, listening to trash rap, and caring for her little dog. We get an idea that she’s an actress, but we never actually see her, well, acting.
Until we do. It’s one of the biggest and most well-kept secrets in the whole movie and the ultimate reveal of what Jane does, and how far Baker’s willing to go with it, not only took me by surprise, but had me looking at this character, and the whole movie a whole lot differently. It’s not so much of a twist, as much as it’s just a small, little secret hidden in plain-view – some may have been able to figure it out right away, but for some of us, it wasn’t all that easy. Either way, it’s another sure sign of Baker’s great writing and directing style that, no matter how much he depends on his naturalistic look and feel, the man still has some tricks up his sleeves.
That, and he’s also still a great storyteller, without it ever seeming like he’s trying too hard at all.
And with Starlet, Baker gets a lot of mileage out of just letting the camera sit there and do most of the work for him. He follows these sometimes annoying characters, but Baker never seems like he’s judging any of them for a single second; even Mikey and Melissa, the somewhat evil and conniving couple who live with Jane, just seem ridiculously dumb and not necessarily like they’re out to get any person in particular. Baker is smart in giving us a great idea of who each of these characters are, not just by telling us through a story, but just by their actions, and it’s as much of a testament to the actors, as it is to Baker himself.
That said, the performances here are all pretty great. Dree Hemingway, who’s beauty commands your attention with every frame, seems like a natural for the screen, just as her mother was. But in this case, there’s a much more dangerous and rather dark mystery about her that makes her compelling, as we never full well if we can trust her to have good morals, or if she’s just too dumb to function, too. Regardless, Hemingway is great here and makes Jane a whole lot more interesting, packed with a heart, than she had any right to be.
But the real stand-out here is newcomer Besedka Johnson as Sadie who, unfortunately, gave her first and last performance here.
But it’s a beautiful performance from Johnson, because it never seems like she’s acting. This was probably done so on purpose, hence why she was chosen for the role, but it really works in Starlet‘s favor – there are genuinely moments where it seems like Johnson is just being herself and forgetting that there was a camera, somewhere, out there, filming her every move and action. The chemistry she has with Hemingway is beautiful and while the movie does an awful bit of navel-gazing by the end and almost forgets about plot, them two are so extraordinary to watch, it’s hard to complain too much.
Or at all.
Consensus: With a thoughtful direction and attention to the performances, Starlet is a small, subdued, but surprisingly smart character-study of two women who couldn’t be further different from one another.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire