Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker and Chris Begoch
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve, James Ransone
If there is one cinematic sub-genre that I adore, it’s the one of the unlikely friendship. There’s really nothing more heartwarming than two people coming together from different walks of life. Getting even more specific, I love stories of unlikely friendships between women. From OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE in the 80’s to BEACHES in the 90’s to BABY MAMA in the 00’s, the sub-genre is gathering steam once again. Co-writer/ director Sean Baker (who made a splash on the scene with PRINCE OF BROADWAY) is now offering audiences his stellar new film, STARLET. Showcasing organic character development, breathtaking cinematography, and an adorable Chihuahua, this film shines brilliantly!
Ethereal electro-pop music from Manual sets the tone as our San Fernando Valley-located tale begins. Life seems pretty idyllic for our heroine, 21-year-old aspiring actress Jane (Dree “daughter of Mariel” Hemingway) and her Chihuahua Starlet (played by four-legged dynamo Boonee). Unhappy with her friend Melissa’s (Stella Maeve) guest room accommodations, Jane visits elderly widow Sadie’s (Besedka Johnson) yard sale. Even though the two don’t exactly hit it off – their meet-cute is confrontational at best – Jane purchases a large blue and white thermos. As she’s repurposing it into a vase, Jane discovers wads of cash shoved inside. Not knowing whether she should return the money or not, sweet Jane inserts herself into curmudgeon Sadie’s life, and what happens next is some soul-stirring poignancy for the viewer. Long hidden secrets are uncovered as their relationship deepens.
While Jane’s backstory may be an all too common one amongst girls seeking fame in the bright lights of Hollywood, this film is truly an anomaly in so many ways. It’s rare that audiences are treated to such an unabashedly charming (though never overly-saccharine) and intelligent story. Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch have carefully crafted a beautifully authentic film whose story blooms before your eyes throughout the brisk running time. No cheap screenwriting devices are ever utilized – just sublimely layered character development. And in another pleasant departure from convention, the dog in the film is much more than a mere prop. Starlet augments and informs Jane’s journey, and Boonee holds his own opposite powerhouse Hemingway. You can’t beat that!
Hemingway, whose talent and looks remind me a lot of Gwyneth Paltrow, is incandescent. She turns in a raw, delicately nuanced performance as a young woman looking for a friend. Even though she starts off doing something duplicitous, you still root for her to befriend this lonely woman, who clearly also needs a friend. Johnson, in her feature film debut, does a wonderful job handling the complexities of her reluctant friend role. There’s an undercurrent of lovability to her caustic, abrasive tone. On the visual side, Radium Cheung’s soft, warm cinematography glows against the backdrop of the seedy Valley.
Female friendship is hard to find. Finding a film that best captures how women make and keep friends is even harder; however, Baker does so quite effortlessly here. While I’m hesitant to take my septuagenarian friend (yes, I have one) to this film (for reasons I don’t want to spoil here), STARLET is a cross-generational gem.
STARLET opens on November 9 in New York at Sunshine Cinema and Los Angeles at the Sundance Cinema Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and the Town Center 5 in Encino. For more info on release dates, go here.