Starlet Screen 13 articles



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  • It’s easy enough to see that Starlet is a gorgeous-looking movie: cinematographer Radium Cheung, whose credits as a grip run the gamut from Swimfan (2002) to Blue Valentine (2010), is obviously a major talent who understands the sun-blind look of Southern California. What’s harder and more rewarding to discern is just how lovely Starlet is at its core—how it understands the difference between sentiment and sentimentality and does justice to the former while adroitly sidestepping the latter.

  • The details of Jane’s tawdry, low-rent existence are well-rendered, from her vapid roommates (one installs a stripper pole in the living room) to a keen sense of drugged-out exploitation. Unfortunately, the film signals its more serious aspirations aggressively, via “thoughtful” synth drones and an italicized parental subtext. Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel, commits to some unnecessary nudity, but also impresses with her subtlety.

  • In the hands of a filmmaker with more of a European sensibility, Starlet would know not to seek drama in its plot because there's enough in the situations it's created. It's here, when Starlet isn't trying to be a conventional narrative, that we see something refreshing: gorgeous young female bodies whose objectification is so evident, so pragmatic, we can't partake in it.

  • It’s not hard to read this plot, even if the constants are different. Where Baker unquestionably succeeds is in directing his actors, or not directing them. While interviewed, Hemingway pulls at her arms, chews cuticles, laughs in her throat and leaves halting sentences… unfinished… Just like Jane. It’s an open question whether Starlet is by nature camera-shy. Happily Starlet isn’t.

  • Director Sean Baker, co-writing his fourth feature with Chris Bergoch, does some deft balancing of his own: His genuine admiration for these two women extends to their idiosyncrasies, yet they never become fools, whores, saints, or coots.

  • Baker is a confident storyteller and his players (who range from professionals to first-time actors) turn in good, soulful work. Yet the central surprise so overwhelms the rest of the movie that it distracts from these virtues—or, worse yet, reduces them to window dressing.

  • What seems at first like an implausible relationship turns out to be based in facts neither one is keen to reveal.

  • While Starlet mostly hits the right notes, I will disagree with most of my esteemed colleagues on a minor point. Although Stella Maeve’s performance as Melissa is commendable, I find her character as a roommate from hell, a strung-out, bitchy, unreliable, drug-addicted porn starlet to be on the trite side of cliché.

  • The bright sun that blasts through “Starlet,” a thrillingly, unexpectedly good American movie about love and a moral awakening, bathes everything in a radiant light, even the small houses with thirsty lawns and dusty cars.

  • The movie has been trimmed a bit since SXSW; it still feels a bit long but that also because there is a lot happening. The movie narrative is complicated in large part because, as hints of backstories surface without coalescing, Jane and Sadie grow ever more interesting as characters.

  • It is precisely this irresolute tension between giving and taking, self(ishness) and selfless(ness) that fuels a story whose very dubiousness represents the poetic fortitude of a subtly perceptive and penetrating film. It is a film that explores the existential contradictions pulsing at the core of a pornified society, where people use each other by expediency, never revealing their true motivations yet always eager to simulate.

  • Starlet is a film of small, humane gestures set within a world extreme displays of physicality. And yet what we're left with isn't images of exploitation or perversity, but ones of warmth and camaraderie. And in that sense, the film is one of the most unexpectedly moving love stories American cinema has given us in quite some time.

  • In Starlet, Baker gave up the cinematographer reigns to Radium Cheung and the result was his most visually refined film yet. This teaming up is a major turning point. Baker’s own cinematography on his first two films was rough but sharp, creating beauty out of of-the-moment documentary-style shaky cam with a consciousness—but Cheung finds a refined balance between the realism that has always driven Baker, and a more rigorous formal approach tailored to the subject of the films.

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