Starlet - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Starlet Reviews

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Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
November 25, 2012
When "Starlet," the new film from cinema-vérité expert Sean Baker, is at its best, it's deeply emotional and filled with under-stated brilliance. At its worst, it's boring and aimless. It's a mixed bag with "Starlet." But when it's good, it's very, very good.

Dree Hemingway (daughter of Mariel Hemingway) plays a young woman in Los Angeles getting started in the pornography business. But "Starlet" is not much interested in the pornography. The focus of the film is an odd friendship that the girl strikes up with a crusty, bitter 80-year-old woman, played superbly by first-time actress Besedka Johnson.

Johnson is so good that I wouldn't be surprised if she wins some Best Supporting Actress awards - or at least some nominations. I don't know how Baker does this. He finds untrained, natural actors everywhere he goes. It's one of his specialties.

Baker first began attracting attention in 2004 when he partnered with Shih-Ching Tsou to make "Take Out," a gritty examination of the army of Chinese men who bicycle around Manhattan delivering Chinese food for $2 tips. He followed that up with "Prince of Broadway," another hand-made movie with a cast of immigrants, this time from the Caribbean.

"Starlet" is not exactly cinema-vérité, but it does have something of a hand-made quality. The casting of Johnson, furthermore, a "real person" as opposed to a professional actor, gives the film that unique Baker touch. Some have described Baker as reminiscent of John Cassavetes. I can see the resemblance. But Baker has a long way to go in terms of story development if he wants to be anywhere near as good as Cassavetes.

Both "Take Out" and "Prince of Broadway" suffered terribly from under-development in the story department. Baker is the kind of filmmaker who believes that if a person looks interesting and very real, an audience will want to watch him/her walk down the street for 90 minutes. Not so. For most people, including most intelligent cinephiles, watching a unique person walk down the street remains engaging for about five minutes. The other 85 minutes must show the person involved in something that's interesting. The character's being in and of itself is not that intriguing. We need to see his being in action. And the action, furthermore, must be thought-provoking -- walking down the street is not interesting action.

Baker appears to have been working on this. "Starlet" is a step forward. There is more story in "Starlet" than in his previous two films combined. But there's still not enough. There are too many slack, repetitious moments in "Starlet," and there is too little revealed about the characters. Baker never gets inside his characters; he watches them from very far away. In a sense, he's more of a cinematographer than a filmmaker. He likes to watch his characters, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in what they have to say. When he writes dialogue, it's bare bones. In a Baker film, the dialogue is really beside the point. This makes his films more like appetizers than entrées. They always whet my appetite but not much more than that.

But there's no denying that "Starlet" has magical qualities. There are moments of truly stunning visual poetry. And its vision of these unique characters is deeply tender. I love how Baker finds humanity in the most unlikely places. When other artists are looking at the people who stand out and make an impression, Baker is noticing the guy who's delivering the take-out food, or the old crone playing bingo by herself to whom no one has spoken in years. I love that he directs his artistry toward these people. I just wish he penetrated inside their worlds more deeply.
Super Reviewer
½ May 24, 2013
In "Starlet," Jane(Dree Hemingway) wants to add a few touches to her room, but her housemate Melissa(Stella Maeve) tells her not to get too ambitious because Mikey(James Ransome) might need the space to film occasionally. So, Jane checks out every yard sale in southern California, finding a thermos she plans on converting into a vase. That is until she finds about $10,000 in cash inside. After the obligatory shopping spree, Jane feels bad and tries to return the thermos to Sadie(Besedka Johnson) but cannot quite get the right words out. So, Jane looks for another way to make amends like giving Sadie a ride home from the supermarket. And like the saying goes, no good deed happens without a macing...

"Starlet" is an unpredictable, modest and off-beat movie whose humor comes from misperception and preconceptions that even manages to make bingo suspenseful. All of which is centered around a realistic take on the adult film industry that makes it out to be neither good nor bad.(Whether that scene is necessary is debatable. In any case, the film skirts the topic until then.) It just is. The only down side for the performers here is having young women achieve a level of instant fame before they have any idea of the person they will become. Jane is off to a better start than Melissa because she at least thinks about the future and considers other people, even if she makes her share of mistakes when not thinking things through. As far as Sadie goes, not much is really known until that enigmatic final shot.
Super Reviewer
½ May 6, 2013
Starlet is about an unlikely friendship forming between 21 year-old Jane and the elderly Sadie after Jane discovers a hidden stash of money inside an object at Sadie's yard sale. I ended up liking this much more than I expected. Much like "Future Weather", Starlet tells a simple story containing more depth than what's on the surface. The unique relationship between two different generation of women interacting with one another is fascinating to witness. These two women have different ideals, personalities, and well rounded relationship that changes both output on life. Not only does it show that porn actors can have a heart, but also the darker side of the industry effecting personal lives. It's solely a film driven by the characters which most are highly developed. I didn't mind spending time with the central characters even if the activities they underwent were ordinary and at times just lingered around without a director. Except one flaw comes from the character of Mikey who's the boyfriend of our protagonist roommate is decidedly one note. Another problem are the supporting characters are simply in service to move to the plot. The film does not focus a huge amount of time on Jane's job only rarely seeing her do any actual work. So for those wanting an in depth look of how a porn actor is affected by their profession look elsewhere. In the end Starlet plot is naturalistic, simple to follow and one requiring a lot of thought the events we witness that what's on the surface.

The major upside of this film comes its incredibly talented cast. Dree Hemingway excels in portraying the root of her character. I could imagine other actresses going for a full dramatic take, but would have not been as effective as what Dree Hemingway did. Dree Hemingway is energetic playing a cheerful slacker while handling the duality of her playfulness and lack of maturity when she needs to swift. Besedka Johnson in her first (and last) role will amazed. Johnson has a steady relationship with Hemingway and it very sympathetic without revealing too much in her actions. At first when we see Johnson she's appears as nothing special, but grows on you. The supporting cast is decent and in terms of visuals there is some nice scenery, but nothing to get excited about.

Starlet is simplicity in nature, but filled with more depth in execution. Well rounded character portrayed by leads both giving standout performances make the viewing even more engaging. Starlet might not be for everyone due to it simplistic story, but those who see will be rewarded with a deep story under the surface and fine performances.
October 9, 2014
The relationship between Jane and Sadie never feels developed enough to care much about. The movie also keeps Jane's back story a little too undefined, making her motivations unclear, but ambiguity doesn't help the movie. The "twist" near the middle you can kinda see coming (no pun intended); the unstimulated sex was a little too jarring. Maybe it's supposed to be, but I don't think it needed to be included to make its point. Most of it is unfortunately just so low key it's mostly boring.
December 30, 2013
Thought-provoking movies. If you have patience to get through the boring parts and the often irritating characters, this film will stay in your mind for days.
½ June 25, 2013
Starlet starts off as a slow, clichéd and yet awkward indie about a young and beautiful wannabe model/actress, Jane (Dree Hemingway - Mariel's daughter ... Ernest's great-granddaughter), who -- along with her materialistic and wishy-washy friends -- roam the streets and hotspots of sun-soaked Los Angeles looking for fun and their next hit. Her roommate Melissa (Stella Maeve - The Runaways) is selfish and shallow and Melissa's pimp-esque boyfriend (James Ransone - Sinister) is a dense tool who likes video games, stripper poles and porn. The film quietly becomes something else when Jane meets elderly Sadie (the late Besedka Johnson in her one and only film performance) at a garage sale when Jane buys an old Thermos in hopes of turning it into a vase. When Jane discovers a stash of cash she wishes to return to Sadie -- who doesn't even want to listen to the young girl -- she sees an opportunity to help the older lady with various everyday tasks. The film becomes a highly unlikely relationship drama between these two drastically different individuals who only happen to have a few things in common. The film becomes a somewhat special one ... and I was enamored by it. I must warn anybody who likes these types of dramas that there is a HIGHLY explicit sex scene placed in the middle of the film (Jane has to work) that garnered the film an NC-17 rating. That rating was rejected by the director and studio and it was released as an unrated film. It is NOT a tame scene by any means. The entire scene was not necessary and does mar this film because everything shown could easily have been alluded to; but ... I was neither the screenwriter nor the director. Starlets in Hollywood might be a dime a dozen; but this one offers up something special if one can make it to the film's final touching moments. I'd prefer an edit but I'll take what I got here.
November 12, 2012
Starlet gives a deep view into a young blond 21 year old woman living in the North San Fernando Valley.
November 14, 2012
PLEASE don't waste your time or money. Lives up to all of its zero ambitions. Jammed with indie clichés. Nothing of value. Imagine "Foxes" being twice as dull and vacant.
November 12, 2015
Really enjoyed this. I would recommend. This is NOT suitable for children in any fashion
½ November 7, 2015
Not interesting in the characters. Very unpleasant worlds they inhabit.
October 18, 2015
That was not what I expected at all. I thought this would be about two women, generations apart connecting and helping each other get to their next level. Secrets do emerge, but not the kind of secrets you would have ever imagined. Quite an interesting film.
½ September 22, 2015
me encantó, buena música y buen guión.
July 17, 2015
I really did like the main storyline of the two main characters,Jane and Sadie, how they meet and how they become friends to one another, however, I think that Jane's relationship with her roommate and her career as a porn star were a distraction from what could have been a much better film. I felt like I was watching two very different films, depending on which scene Jane was on screen with...Just ok...nothing great.
November 23, 2014
Dree Hemingway delivers a sexy performance, and Starlet is overall touching and deep.
½ September 28, 2014
This movie had some potential, but that potential was ultimately unfulfilled.

The initial idea: young woman befriends much older woman, looked like it might have some legs to it, especially with the money angle to it too. However, from the start the movie seemed a bit unoriginal - Harold and Maude sprang immediately to mind - and implausible. Some of the stuff that happens is just plain weird and contrived.

Weaved in and out of this theme is Jane's (the young woman) other life, with her permanently-high flatmate, other friends and job. This varies from quite funny at times (the flatmate and friends) to downright gratuitous (the R-rated scenes). The porn industry stuff was essentially just padding and titillation. It cheapened the movie, to a very large extent.

Ending is interesting and does tie the movie together, but isn't that much of a shock or twist.
August 5, 2014
Very Depressing attempt at exploring the lives of several broken people wit no hope for the future. On group of hopless people who are still you but have gone on a road to piss away their lives while being exploited by other broken people. And one older person who has lost a great deal in her life and is trying her best to live each day of what is left of her sad life.
½ November 10, 2012
Great concept. Well cast.
July 24, 2013
Brilijantno osmisljena prica koja doslovno ocarava do samog kraja. Blockbusteri se mogu sakriti. Velik dobrom pricom, svjezom... vjerujem ne svakodnevnom, ali nadam se da postoje ovakvi ljudi, iskreni, bez obzira cime se bave i odakle dolaze.
December 21, 2013
The characters really grow on you after awhile and the evenhanded direction is a pleasant surprise.
½ November 8, 2013
Superb!! This might be boring for a few but I liked it. Nice drama. There are some very emotional moments and comic too. The ending is just too good.
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