Starlet felt like a film that had two completely different ideas for plots that could have worked well on their own instead of trying to incorporate both.
Twice nominated Independent Spirit Award director Sean Baker, in his fourth feature film, shows us the development of an unlikely friendship between two people with nothing in common and nearly 60 years separating them apart. Starlet is a character study centered on a moral dilemma that yields results that you would not expect. Eventually secrets come out from everyone involved.
Jane (Dree Hemingway) recently moved into a house with a friend who seems more interested in playing video games and getting high than anything else. This friend works in the adult entertainment business and has all the baggage that you would expect to come from it. Jane’s only stability comes from her small dog, which the film was named after, as it is the only relationship that Jane has and one of the few things she can call her own.
It is obvious that Jane does not quite feel at home in her new place since there is nothing of hers in it. It is a common reaction for someone to feel like they need to change or add something a living space to make it feel like a part of it is their own. So Jane decides to go around to several yard sales looking for new items to decorate her place with. She picks up several items from different yard sales but she soon finds out that a thermos that she bought will end up being more than she bargained for, literary. Jane discovers a substantial amount of cash that was stuffed into the thermos when she tries to use it for the first time. She then ponders whether or not to keep the unexpected windfall of money or return it back to the elderly lady she bought it from.
Ridden with guilt, Jane decides to meet up with the lady to help her out with random errands in an effort to repay her back without actually giving the money back. Jane pays off the taxi waiting for her at a grocery store to accomplish this to make it seem like it was a random occurrence. She finds out that the older lady’s name is Sadie (Besedka Johnson) and that she has absolutely nothing in common. Sadie is mostly confused as to why Jane wants to help her out so much all of a sudden and is very cold to her at first because of that.
Jane is trying to be as good of a samaritan as she can without giving back the money outright. It takes a while for Sadie to warm up to Jane but she eventually does. The two end up forming a friendship based off nothing and on the fact that Jane received a great deal of Sadie’s money without her knowing. How long she can keep it from Sadie is unknown as is what would happen if she did find out.
Without spoiling too much of the film, a problem I had with the film was the characters themselves. It was hard to have much compassion for Jane as she only seemed to be doing half of a good deed. Which you could argue is a half-step up from the other life choices she has made considering her good friend is a porn star who steals from her. Sadie was the character that you find yourself caring about the most, the rest of the characters tend to be shallow with few likeable characteristics.
The camera work in Starlet was excellent as was the editing so it was easy to tell Sean Baker knew what he was doing on that end. The two things I felt could have used some improvement were the script and the acting. The acting was my least favorite part of the film aside from the 85 year-old Besedka Johnson. People were saying Dree Hemingway had a breakout performance (I would call it brave) but I believe that would actually go to Besedka, who made her first acting appearance here at the tender age of 85.
Starlet felt like a film that had two completely different ideas for plots that could have worked well on their own instead of trying to incorporate both. The result can be summed up with the old saying of, “if you chase two rabbits and you will catch neither”. Instead of focusing on the unorthodox relationship between Jane and Sadie the subplot of behind the scenes in the adult entertainment industry kept interrupting and taking too much focus. It is unfortunate because Starlet could have worked out better than it did.