'Starlet,' an indie about young actress, old woman, friendship
Starlet sneaks up on you. Set in the same sun-dried, strip-malled precincts of the San Fernando Valley where Boogie Nights took place - and set, in part, in that same porn industry milieu - Sean Baker's low-key, low-budget indie traces the relationship that develops between a young actress and an isolated, elderly woman.
Jane (Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel) shares a house with Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Mikey (James Ransone), a couple whose main occupation seems to be getting stoned and getting into fights. Jane has a Chihuahua, and time on her hands. She's not happy with her bedroom, so she goes on a garage-sale trek.
That's how she meets Sadie (Besedka Johnson). Jane buys a big thermos from the woman, which she first mistakes for an urn. The small, frail Sadie is practically hidden behind the overgrown foliage in her front yard. She warns Jane that there are no refunds.
A few days later, washing the thermos out in the kitchen sink (while Melissa and Mikey are yelling in the living room), Jane discovers fat rolls of hundreds that had been concealed inside. What to do? Return the money? Keep it? Or meet up with the woman under false pretenses and try to suss her out?
Jane opts for Plan C.
With her drifty eyes and hollow intonations, Hemingway's Jane radiates a casual vacuousness, cuddling with her pooch, and showing up for work - a rigorous sex scene - with little apprehension, or anticipation, or anything.
Sadie just seems frightened and alone, and wary of this willowy blonde in the halter top who keeps offering to help her buy groceries, take her to her bingo games.
Baker gets the details right, and gives Hemingway and Johnson room to improvise, to explore their characters as their characters explore each another.
And what begins as a nice little idea for a short story (Raymond Carver-esque, if Carver had been around for the era of digital porn) turns into something deeper, more revelatory. The old can teach the young, the young can teach the old, and broken souls can help each other to become whole.