Los Angeles Times

'Starlet': Actress brings a solid pedigree to a solid indie ★★★

In the Van Nuys, Calif.-set "Starlet," a success at this year's South by Southwest film festival, the young actress Dree Hemingway brings a sure comic touch (without shtick) to a satisfying picture. Now 25, she's the daughter of Mariel Hemingway and the great-granddaughter of Ernest. She comes from photogenic stock.

In director/co-writer Sean Baker's new film she plays Jane, a transplant from Florida who, like thousands before her, has arrived in the greater Los Angeles area with dreams and a few undefined plans. Also, in the many-tentacled adult film industry, she has a way of paying her share of the rent in the meantime, however long "meantime" is destined to continue.

One day at a yard sale, in search of home furnishings, Jane picks up an old thermos. The widow who sells it to her, played by 85-year-old newbie Besedka Johnson, doesn't realize her late husband used the canister to stash $10,000 in tightly rolled bills. After finding the money Jane tries to return it to Sadie, but Sadie slams the door in her face. Guided by equal parts guilt, curiosity and sympathy, the young woman initiates a friendship with Sadie that becomes the heart of this winningly executed indie.

It's an odd film in some ways. The porn milieu is detailed in ways at once sparing, in terms of actual screen time, and bluntly explicit. The odd-couple relationship guiding the story has its familiarities.

But where it counts, "Starlet" — which takes its title from Jane's dog's name — allows its characters room to maneuver within the potential cliches. Mainly it's a showcase for Hemingway, who keeps us guessing about Jane's motives, as well as her relative and moral intelligence. Johnson serves as a flinty oppositional force. The movie is taken up largely by Jane's taking Sadie around on errands and visits — to her beloved bingo games, to her late husband's grave site. We know more or less where "Starlet" is going, yet when we arrive, we're glad for having made the acquaintance of these two.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Starlet' -- 3 stars
No MPAA rating
(explicit sex, some language)
Running time: 1:44
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • 10 movies to see over the holidays

    10 movies to see over the holidays

    Tragic, yes, but some sagas must come to an end, such as "Twilight." Other chapters in an ongoing legend promise a follow-up even before the end credits roll, as in the very good new James Bond film "Skyfall." And the rest? The rest is silence, for now, because the public hasn't voted at the box...

  • Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Since 2002 there have been arguably 50 movies about superheroes. Arguably, because genre is tricky; it's often variations on a theme, and some variations are less obvious than others. ("Star Wars," for instance, a bit of a space western, is no one's picture of the western genre.) Oh, also: Because...

Comments
Loading
77°