Starlet

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Drama
A sweet story of a young actress's friendship with an older woman is soured by a tawdry adult-film-world setting.
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve, James Ransone, Karren Karagulian
Director: Sean Baker
Running time: 1:43
Release: Opened Nov 16, 2012
'

Editorial Review

A sweet bond
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, November 16, 2012

Starlet” is like a flower growing out of a septic tank.

The story of the friendship between a San Fernando Valley porn actress (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly widow (Besedka Johnson) is certainly unlikely -- in movies, is there any other kind? But the relationship also has a sweetness that’s spontaneous, unforced and a tiny bit tough, belying the story’s milieu of mechanical sex, drugs and melodramatic, if hollow, emotional connection.

The relationship is the best thing about the film, which otherwise feels hopelessly sad and tawdry.

The second best thing is the dog whose name lends the film its somewhat ironic title. The chihuahua Starlet (played, according to the credits, by a dog named Boonee) is a natural ham. He -- and yes, it’s a he, despite the girlie name -- lights up the screen whenever he’s on, even though he’s asleep much of the time.

The two leads have a relaxed rapport, too. Playing the curmudgeonly Sadie, Johnson -- who was discovered while exercising at a YMCA -- doesn’t “act” so much as just be. And Hemingway (the daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway) brings an easy charm to Jane, a lost soul who strikes up a relationship with the old woman after purchasing a thermos from her at a yard sale and finding it stuffed with about $10,000 in cash.

Of course, Jane doesn’t return the money. But driven by curiosity, and perhaps a little guilt, she begins chauffeuring Sadie to the bingo parlor, the grocery store and the cemetery, where Sadie leaves flowers at the grave of her late husband, a successful gambler.

There’s no back story to be unspooled. Mostly, Jane and Sadie simply hang out, waiting for the older woman’s mistrust of her new friend to thaw. It’s pleasant to watch, if uneventful.

Somewhat more eventful is Jane’s professional and home life, which revolves around mini-psychodramas and career meltdowns involving her mildly sleazy adult-film-producer boss, Arash (Karren Karagulian), and Jane’s aspiring-porn-star/druggie roommates, Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Mikey (James Ransone).

Mikey’s idea of home improvement is to install a stripper pole and floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the living room of their depressingly art-free group house. Arash’s notion of mentoring is to offer Jane the chance to get her small (i.e. perfectly normal-size) breasts “fixed” by a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.

I know, ew.

All this is meant, presumably, to contrast with the genuine nature of Jane and Sadie’s friendship. And that it does, even as it also threatens to suffocate that genuineness.

There’s a beautiful thing growing inside of “Starlet,” but you may have to hold your nose to appreciate it.

Contains pervasive crude language, nudity, sexual situations and drug use.