"Starlet" centers on Jane, a young, listless woman who doesn’t really have any meaningful connections in her life, until she discovers that a thermos she bought at a yard sale is filled with a stash of money. She tries to get to know the elderly woman who sold her the thermos, and ends up befriending the curmudgeonly Sadie. At first it's for selfish reasons, but she’s clearly starved for real human contact, and forces her companionship upon Sadie. Jane’s roommate Melissa and her boyfriend Mikey (played by the electric James Ransone, who needs to be in everything) are consistently high on pot and oxy, drawing Jane into their fights, and you can see why Sadie is a relief for her from the madness. She exists in a state of non-identity, with her ill-fitting clothes, and she seems too smart to be performing a dumb blonde routine that doesn’t really fit either. The trip to the yard sale to personalize her room is the only thing that really signifies who she might be, through the items that she picks to make the place her own.
However, her dumb blonde act soon becomes relevant because SPOILERS AHEAD as we come to realize, indicated by little clues littered throughout (and um, the title), Jane and Melissa are in porn. They live in the Valley and exist almost entirely within the porn industrial context located there. The film has a lo-fi, handheld aesthetic, and it treats porn in the mundane, de-glamorized way that “The Wrestler” or “Black Swan” treated wrestling and ballet. Mumbleporn, if you will?
The narrative is a bit slow moving throughout the first third, and its loose structure sometimes allows the story to sag a bit, to its detriment. It does have enough drama of miscommunication, secrets kept, and revelations throughout to keep it moving, but it feels a tad long towards the end. Still, “Starlet” is an interesting effort from indie filmmaker Sean Baker (this is his fourth feature), and signals the arrival of Dree Hemingway as one to watch. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from SXSW.