Starlet (2012) Directed by Sean Baker. With Dree Hemingway. Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve and James Ransone.
After she buys an old Thermos flask from Sadie (Besedka Johnson) – an elderly lady at a local yard sale – young Jane (Dree Hemingway) discovers a substantial amount of money inside of it, which inadvertently prompts the beginning of an unlikely friendship between the pair.
Written and directed by Sean Baker, Starlet is a surprising, beautifully shot independent drama that confronts some potentially awkward subject matter in an understated, unassuming way. It’s focus is on intertwining two people from vastly different worlds, separated not only by decades in age, but also by their perspectives and attitudes to life, bucking the old adage that ‘never the twain shall meet‘.
The real beauty of Dree Hemingway’s central performance is not that she is a picture of physical perfection (she is), it is that she transcends it to present a kind-hearted, gentle presence with whom we can easily become emotionally engaged. It’s as if she inhabits two souls, one, of a free-spirited 21-year-old gangster rap enthusiast who can hold her own on Call of Duty. Then there’s her other side – a sensitive, charmingly naive individual, willing to help anyone in the slightest need of it.
Then we have Sadie, played by the remarkable Besedka Johnson. Remarkable is a word that barely does this woman justice, for this is, staggeringly, her first, and sadly last ever screen appearance. Johnson passed away in 2013, but she leaves the legacy of a beautifully honest portrayal of a moody, quietly yearning old woman that makes her screen time with Hemingway completely absorbing.
Not only is Baker’s film home to two stunning central performances, it is also subtly heartbreaking and life-affirming in equal measure. The images are crisp and clean, with interesting camera compositions and editing that emphasise the odd juxtaposition of the worlds the two central characters come from.
There are details outside of the captivating central relationship, that feature some surprisingly frank sexual content, as well as drug use and a great deal of profanity. These details, while possibly shocking in nature for some, are there not only to point out the opposing extremes of the main character’s lives, but also to emphasise a sense of maturity on the part of Hemingway’s character, portraying her as a person wholly comfortable in her own skin, yet never to the point of arrogance. As a small, independent release, it’s unlikely Starlet will be widely seen. Spread the word. 4.5/5