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No synopsis for Starlet.
For more about Starlet and the Starlet Blu-ray release, see Starlet Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson
» See full cast & crew
Starlet Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 4, 2013
Note: It's next to impossible to discuss Starlet without at least hinting at one major plot development which might be considered a spoiler. I've tried mightily not to divulge this plot point outright, but for those of you who are "good at guessing" and don't want the surprise spoiled, it's probably best to skip the main review (and even the supplements section) and simply focus on the technical aspects of the review.
Mariel Hemingway received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Woody Allen's Manhattan when she was still just a teenager, but some at least may argue that it was Bob Fosse's underrated 1983 opus Star 80 where Hemingway really attempted to prove she wasn't just another pretty face. There was a certain smarminess to Star 80 that probably kept the film from being better received, but even many who didn't like the film per se commented favorably on the work of Hemingway (as doomed Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten) and Eric Roberts (as her husband who eventually murdered her). Some may wonder if there's some kind of generational requirement for young Hemingways to play roles in films with "star" in the title, for Mariel's daughter Dree Hemingway is front and center in the 2012 independent feature Starlet, though in this case the two "star" films couldn't be more different. Starlet's title in fact refers not to Hemingway's character (at least not ostensibly) but that of her little Chihuahua, and the film is less a seedy exposé of the roiling lives of would be celebrities (though that definitely comes into play here) than a quiet and unassuming examination of an unlikely friendship between a young supposed actress (more about that in a moment) and an elderly widow who become friends (more or less, anyway) due to some unexpected circumstances. The film is built around several episodes in the burgeoning relationship between the two women and if it's ultimately perhaps a bit too much of a "fly on the wall" drama for its own good, it proves that there is a rather formidable "acting gene" still quite active in the Hemingway clan.
If you've ever been to Los Angeles and environs, you may have noticed the almost surreal disparity between tony neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and the vast, smog laden expanses of the San Fernando Valley. My sister-in-law's parents live on one of the most prestigious streets in Beverly Hills, in a gorgeous mansion that is almost like a mini art museum (replete with glass enclosed display tables and inserts in the walls), but the rest of our California relatives live in enclaves like Encino, and driving up and over "the hills" and into the San Fernando Valley can be an exercise in a radically shifting worldview. That's at least hinted at in Starlet, for the denizens of the film are resolutely stuck in the Valley while at least some of their dreams attempt to waft up and over into the land of movie stars and paparazzi, and perhaps even farther than that.
Jane (Dree Hemingway) seems to be something of a slacker, a gorgeous young blonde who lives with two stoner videogame playing housemates, Mikey (James Ransome) and Melissa (Stella Maeve). One day to relieve the boredom Jane sets out around the San Fernando Valley with her little dog Starlet to hit yard sales. We see her in a montage picking up various useless items, including a huge floral thermos that Jane wants to make into a vase. We don't really have much of a sense of who Jane, Mikey and Melissa are, other than seemingly unambitious twentysomethings, but we start to get a clue in an interesting scene relatively early in the film when Jane is in the kitchen attempting to clean the thermos while Melissa arrives back from a still undefined workplace in hysterics. Jane really isn't paying that much attention to the drama unfolding in the background because she's shocked to discover that a lot of money has been stuffed into the thermos in neat little rubber banded rolls.
Jane almost immediately goes on a spending spree, getting goodies for herself and for Starlet, but ultimately her conscience gets the best of her, and she tries to return the thermos to the elderly lady from whom she bought it, but the woman simply cuts her off with a curt "No refunds!", leaving Jane to contemplate her next move. She follows the elderly woman one day when the woman takes a cab to the grocery store. Jane runs to the cab and pays him off, and then magically "shows up" offering to drive the old woman home. Thus begins a highly unusual and awkward relationship where it even takes Jane a while to learn that the old woman's name is Sadie (Besedka Johnson). Sadie is a rather crusty old broad, not especially glad to have a newfound companion seemingly stalking her, and things get even worse when Jane shows up to Sadie's weekly excursion to a church bingo game. An ensuing melée with some concerned police officers at least has the upshot that Sadie figures out—perhaps incorrectly—that Jane is only trying to be nice and supposedly has no ulterior motives.
The rest of the film plays out in small character driven moments between Jane and Sadie, as well as between Jane and Melissa. Without spoiling one of the major plot points that occurs surprisingly late in the film, it turns out Jane and Melissa work for the same company in an industry for which the San Fernando Valley is somewhat infamous. Melissa, however, has discovered Jane's stash of bucks and has a few ideas of her own. One of the most interesting things about Starlet is how discursive all of these elements are, with the one notable exception of the "reveal" (an appropriate term, for those who can read between the lines) regarding Jane's nascent career. We're really not privy to that much information about either Sadie or Jane, and yet both characters are fully formed and very believable.
Anchoring the film are two remarkable women, the young Dree Hemingway (who looks kind of like a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and Bridget Fonda) and an elderly newcomer by the name of Besedka Johnson, a senior citizen who in typically unpredictable Hollywood fashion was "discovered" when she was 85 while she was swimming laps in a YMCA and suddenly found her long ago dreams of being an actress a reality. (Johnson sadly passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 87.) Hemingway and Johnson play beautifully off of each other, and as the relationship grows, there's some real heartfelt emotion that reaches through the screen and will touch all but the most hardened viewer. Jane's slow realization of what is right is what drives the film, but Sadie's own crusty shell gives the film its bitter edge.
Starlet Blu-ray, Video Quality
Starlet is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Music Box Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. This digitally shot feature has been intentionally tweaked in post in rather interesting ways. Color has been drained to the point that fleshtones are typically almost white a lot of the time, but otherwise the film is bathed in a rather ironic golden hue for vast swaths of its running time, something considerably at odds with the lifestyles being portrayed. Fine object detail remains surprisingly strong in spite of these choices, further helped by Baker and DP Radium Cheung's penchant for extreme close-ups. The overuse of "jiggly cam" tends to occasionally rob the image of sharpness as does a tendency toward shallow focus a lot of the time. Contrast is also occasionally overblown some of the time, but generally is consistent and helps to support the image as it wanders in and out of doors. There were no obvious compression artifacts noticeable.
Starlet Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Starlet has both lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio options available. The 5.1 mix comes nicely alive in some of the group scenes, but also provides a nice sense of aural depth even in scenes like the one where Jane is in the kitchen discovering the money while Melissa and Mikey are in the background arguing. There's quite a bit of source music cues utilized throughout the film, and those spill into the surrounds very effectively. An evening out clubbing with Jane and Melissa provides ample low end in one memorable scene. Fidelity is excellent, though dynamic range is fairly subdued other than with regard to the music.
Starlet Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Starlet Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Starlet is a film that plays it close to the vest quite a bit of the time, so much so that you might think nothing much is happening until suddenly a shocking revelation about an hour into the film puts everything in a decidedly new light (this sequence is not for the puritans out there). But despite the shock value of that scene (whose use is at least questionable), the film is more about the touching relationship between Jane, a kind of lost soul, and Sadie, a woman with a deeply buried past. Two remarkable performances by Hemingway and Johnson anchor this film and give it a notable authenticity. This Blu-ray offers excellent video, audio and supplements and comes Highly recommended.
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Starlet Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Starlet Blu-ray - January 25, 2013
Independent distributors Music Box Films have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray Sean Baker's film Starlet (2012), starring Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson and James Ransone. The preliminary release date set by the distributors is May 7th.
Starlet Blu-ray Screenshots
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