Sean Baker’s Starlet either avoids or transcends nearly every cliché we've come to associate with American independent film: Despite what its outer beauty suggests, its many facets reveal little. Its initial setup—a twentysomething blonde (Dree Hemingway, great-granddaughter of Ernest) becomes friends with an elderly widow (Besedka Johnson, debuting at 85) after finding a wad of cash stored in an antique she bought at the octogenarian's yard sale—suggests both a narrative and a protagonist driven primarily by guilt, but Hemingway's nuanced performance confounds this reading just as often as it confirms it. As soon as one emotion simmers, another rises up to take its place. This occasionally tense interplay is made all the more engaging by Johnson's equally impressive turn, making us wonder why she didn't start acting much sooner: I shudder to think what we've been missing all these years. Baker's vision of the San Fernando Valley may not be as stark as Paul Thomas Anderson's (see: Boogie Nights through Punch-Drunk Love), but there's enough darkness lurking beneath his sun-dappled exteriors for us to slowly understand that Starlet's stakes are much higher than they at first appear.
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- Release Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
- Critic's Score: B+
- Watch the trailer