Starlet | Re-View
A plot summary of Sean Baker’s indie gives little sense of how the film works.
Our first look “A single narrative wrinkle is not enough to redeem utterly conventional material.”
Another view Spoiler alerts are usually reserved for thrillers—twisty mysteries whose last-act turns are entirely predictable in their unpredictability. Sean Baker’s Starlet is more in the vein of Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet. It’s not that the movie turns on a trumped-up shock; it’s that reducing the film to a tidy plot summary violates the way it’s meant to work. Suffice it to say that Dree Hemingway’s Jane is an aspiring actress whose semi-employed wandering brings her into contact with Besedka Johnson’s elderly widow. What seems at first like an implausible relationship turns out to be based in facts neither one is keen to reveal.
Baker plays his cards close to the vest as well. But what drives Starlet isn’t plot so much as environment—a sense of the sun-bleached outskirts of Los Angeles where the entertainment industry is just a whisper on the wind. Hemingway (daughter of Mariel) comes to acting from modeling, Johnson via a chance encounter with the director at the local Y, but the disparity in their backgrounds makes for a perfect match. The former’s character is always eager to please; the latter’s prickly distance comes from a life beset by sorrow. Baker, who’s established himself as a neorealist master in waiting, riffs on the very notion of plot, the contrivances necessary to compress intractable life into a workable story. Starlet isn’t free of contrivances, but it lays them out as such, the better to push them aside and zero in on what matters. (Available on VOD Tue 19.)