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Sunday, May 01, 2016

Starlet

What would you do if, after buying an item at a yard sale, you found a lot of cash inside? This actually happened to a friend of mine, who bought a book and found hundred-dollar bills inside. She returned the money, and the grateful recipients cited a dotty old relative who hid her money in strange places.

That's the crux of the intriguing film Starlet, directed and written by Sean Baker. Dree Hemingway plays a young woman who has just moved in with friends. She is remodeling her bedroom and hitting yard sales, and buys what she thinks is a vase from a sharp-tongued old woman, who informs her it's a thermos. She buys it and upon getting it home finds that it contains rolls of cash, worth ten grand. What to do?

Hemingway plays it down the middle. She befriends the old woman, driving her to the grocery store and going to bingo parlors with her. The old lady (Besedka Johnson, who was not a professional actress) wants nothing to do with the flighty young woman, but eventually softens.

Eventually we figure out that Hemingway and her friend, Stella Maeve, are adult film performers. There is a scene in which Hemingway (really it's her stand-in, Zoe Voss) is seen filming a sex scene with actual adult performer Manuel Ferrara. From what I know about porno film sets, it's accurate (Voss is a consultant) but I had to wonder why this, and not making Hemingway something else, like a salesgirl at the Gap.This is a film about a friendship that stems from guilt--Johnson never learns of Hemingway's career, so while it was an interesting twist, I'm not sure it made any dramatic sense.

I liked Starlet because I never knew what was happening next. There are predictable scenes, such as Johnson losing Hemingway's beloved chihuahua (named Starlet) that don't end as you think they might. Baker likes his characters and seems reluctant to give them too much grief. There's also a reveal at the end of the film that doesn't really shake things up.

Baker has since directed the well-received film Tangerine, which is coming up soon on my Netflix queue. And if you're curious, Dree Hemingway is the daughter of Mariel and the great-granddaughter of Papa himself, Ernest Hemingway. She plays the kind of role that Greta Gerwig has specialized in lately.

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