Opening 9 May 2013
Set in hot, arid San Fernando Valley, California – home to the pornographic industry – Jane (Dree Hemingway) cruises yard sales looking for things to decorate the bedroom she rents from porno colleagues (Stella Maeve and James Ransone). Smarter and savvier, 21-year old Jane distances herself – with Starlet (Boonee), her Chihuahua from the pound – from her dysfunctional living environment. Buying a decorative thermos to use as a vase from a crotchety old lady, Sadie (Besedka Johnson’s, 85, first screen roll) warns Jane, “no refunds.” Later, while filling the thermos-vase with water, Jane makes a startling discovery; ultimately, her scruples take Jane, with Starlet, back to Sadie’s house. Long-time a widow, Sadie is wary of Jane’s attentions. After a hard slog, Sadie grudgingly thaws; the disparities – age, background, and personality – are minimized as their impartial friendship increases in value.
Hemingway and Johnson’s convincing performances preempt the threat of this character study becoming saccharine. Director Sean Baker’s pacing is measured, and Radium Cheun chooses some interesting camera angles. Co-writers Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch keep the dialogue nominal – the camera leads – but certain subplots are superfluous, and there are hiccups in Baker’s editing. Still, uncontrived elements in this low-budget film make it worth one’s while; clichés that suddenly take a fresh direction, humorous one-liners, and the juxtaposition of lifestyle opposites. Considering that the porno-industry is the film’s backdrop, unsurprisingly there is candid, explicit sex footage onscreen – briefly – during a scene when a porno film is being shot. But Starlet’s focus is on the genuine affinity that develops between two women, and has a winsome quality worth relaxing into, to enjoy its charm. (Marinell Haegelin)