Some films dazzle and pull you in from the very first scene. Starlet offers a gradual yet engaging process into the introduction of its characters, its surroundings and its overall appeal. It seems as the more the movie progresses, the more information we learn, slowly letting us into the worlds of the main protagonists. As this story of an unlikely friendship unfolds, so do the character’s lives.
Dree Hemingway (great granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway) sparkles in her first lead role as Jane, a quirky, warm-hearted twenty-something crashing with her two dim-witted roommates. At first, it appears Jane is wandering aimlessly through life, getting high with roomies Melissa (Stella Maeve) and her strung-out boyfriend Mikey (James Ransone). In fact, director Sean Baker (Prince of Broadway) who also co-wrote the film uses both the film’s score and backdrop to convey a sense of loneliness and ambiguity.
Taking place in California’s San Fernando Valley (known as “The Valley”), the background always appears deserted and depressing, matching the mood of the film’s mysteries. It’s the perfect scenery for when Jane meets irritable Sadie (Besedka Johnson), an 85-year-old widow at a yard sale. After purchasing a thermos with her dog Starlet who never leaves her side, Jane returns home and surprisingly finds $10,000 in rolled-up bills inside. It is unknown if Sadie is aware of the money’s existence, but Jane’s curiosity brings her back to her home, forming an odd relationship between two women who both appear to lack a firm grip on their lives.
While we are never quite sure if it is out of guilt or perhaps something else entirely, Jane attempts to immerse herself in Sadie’s life. The old woman is at first reluctant to let her in but eventually relents. As we learn more about the characters, particularly the nature of both Jane and her roommate’s employment, the relationship grows. But the ambiguity of both Jane and Sadie remain throughout the entire film, keeping us invested as we continue to question their intents.
The acting of the entire cast is both superb and sincere, serving as one of the driving forces of the film’s allure and excellence. Dree Hemingway, winner of the Hamptons International Film Festival’s Breakthrough Performance is both charming and mysterious. Even when we don’t know much about her character, you still want the pleasure of her company. Without a doubt the oldest “newcomer” in Hollywood, Besedka Johnson offers an incredibly authentic performance in her first onscreen role. Even Jane’s roommates, actors Maeve and Ransone are exceptionally talented scene-stealers, with their own lives spiraling out of control. This plays brilliantly into the film’s theme of lonesomeness and need for human compassion and connection. It is It is no surprise that it was just announced that Starlet will receive the Robert Altman Award bestowed on one film’s director, casting director, and ensemble cast at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards.
If Starlet lacks anything, it’s only the fact that the audience may be left wondering how much the characters have grown once the credits begin to role. But questioning the intentions of every act of every character is what makes this film so compelling. These questions will have your eyes glued until the very end.
3.5 stars out of 4
Starlet is currently in select theaters. Click here for trailer.