Starlet (2012) is a sun-drenched, Los Angeles-set drama that's almost as warm and glamorous as its geographical setting. Starring Dree Hemingway (the great-granddaughter of renowned novelist Ernest Hemingway) in her first starring role, Baker's film may contain the same adult iconography of his TV puppet show Greg the Bunny, yet couldn't be further apart in tone and mood. Hemingway stars as Jane, who has recently moved from Jacksonville, Florida, to enhance her career within LA's flourishing 'adult entertainment' industry. On arrival, she rents a room from her friend and work colleague Gracie (Liz Beebe).
As Gracie's boyfriend uses the room for shoots - and thus Jane can't decorate - she instead decides to personalise it on the cheap by shopping around local yard sales for furniture. Its here she first meets Sadie (Besedka Johnson), an elderly and temperamental woman she purchases a Thermos to use as a vase. However, when Jane discovers $10,000 hidden inside, she finds herself in a moral quandary. Unwilling to give up the cash, she decides to assist Sadie in order to ease her conscious. What initially begins as an awkward series of encounters between two unconventional acquaintances soon blossoms into something far more meaningful.
Starlet remains a curiously engrossing watch. Indeed, it's the remarkable performances from the film's two leads that mask any visible blemishes. Hemingway is extremely watchable, radiating a subtle vulnerability whilst simultaneously presenting a veneer of vapid disinterest and the emotional numbness necessary to succeed in her pornographic career.
Johnson is perhaps the most remarkable of the two, an acting virgin, who whilst in her fading years steels the show with a fragile, yet nuanced performance that's ultimately the most engaging element on show. The peripheral acting in this heartfelt drama masquerading as a morality tale is unsurprisingly at the level of your commonplace porn film, which whilst in keeping with Starlet's sleazy backdrop does somewhat dilute the audiences overall enjoyment and investment in this delicately tuned story. This is of course with the exception of the film's canine cast member, a worthy contender for the sorely desired London Film Festival's equivalent of the Palme Dog.
Unassuming, unkempt, yet inexplicably watchable thanks primarily to the film's two leads, Starlet is, much like the stereotypical perspective of a 'glamour model', beautifully rendered, ostensibly shallow, yet ultimately fruitful in its aim to entertain and gratify.
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