Starlet | Movie review
A big plot twist can’t save this formulaic indie.
It’d be foul play to spoil the twist of Starlet, so let’s put it this way: A single narrative wrinkle is not enough to redeem utterly conventional material. Sean Baker’s by-the-numbers indie, inexplicably praised since its premiere at SXSW, trots out the unexceptional story of Jane (Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel), a blond beauty who discovers $10,000 in an old thermos she purchases at a yard sale. Suffering a crisis of conscience—but only after an impromptu shopping spree, Paris Hilton Chihuahua in tow—the twentysomething Angeleno pays a visit to Sadie (Besedka Johnson), the elderly widow who sold her the container. Rather than return the cash, Jane attempts to alleviate her guilt by awkwardly insinuating herself into the old woman’s life. A few setbacks aside—humorous highlight: Sadie gives her insistent companion a face full of Mace—this May-December friendship gets off the ground. In Los Angeles, never underestimate the ice-breaking value of a free ride to the grocery store.
Aiming for both odd-couple comedy and surrogate-family pathos, Starlet benefits immensely from its leads, who lend credibility to the contrived central relationship. No amount of strong acting, however, can entirely compensate for the dramatic conveniences—making Sadie financially secure, for example, as to let our heroine off the hook—or every shrill appearance by Jane’s cartoonishly despicable roommates. And then there’s the aforementioned plot turn, a big reveal that seems designed mainly to amp up interest in a very ordinary portrait of cross-generational bonding. Given the raves the film has earned, mission accomplished.