The low-budget indie drama Starlet, beautifully shot by Radium Cheung, sensitively directed and edited by Sean Baker (the documentaries Prince of Broadway and Take Out), and performed with sparkling confusion by Dree Hemingway and genuine warmth by Besedka Johnson, follows a friendship that develops between two women, one younger, one older.
And something about it rubs me the wrong way.
When I first saw the film at SXSW in 2012, it quickly struck me as smug and inauthentic, an impression that lasted throughout the movie and made it difficult to resist the urge to walk out, so much so that I had no desire to write about it. A second viewing on Blu-ray opened up some of the attributes that I missed -- most notably the lovely photography -- and made me realize that I was reacting negatively to certain plot twists in the script by Baker and Chris Bergoch, as well as the actions of certain characters; more and more, I find that I don't wish to spend any more time than is necessary with people (including entirely fictional creatures) who are selfish and unkind.
But that's just me, and has more to do with how I choose to spend my time than any kind of reasoned opinion about the film. For what it's worth, the film currently stands at an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
With its release in a quality edition on DVD and Blu-ray, I can recommend (with reservations) a rental for those who enjoyed Baker's previous documentaries, as well as anyone seeking a low-key indie with some good performances.
-- Picture: Shot at 2.35:1 and reproduced faithfully and beautifully.
-- Audio tracks: English 5.1 DTS and English 2.0 DTS
-- Feature Audio Commentary: Director Sean Baker and key members of the cast and crew provide commentary.
-- Behind the Yellow Wall: The Making of Starlet (28 min.): A production diary, featuring an extensive amount of behind-the-scenes footage and conversations with Baker as he drove to various locations.
-- Shooting 'The Scene' (4 min.): Baker discusses a certain scene with an industry professional, and then behind-the-scenes footage of the scene's production is featured.
-- Editing Starlet (4 min.): Baker talks about the post-production process.
-- At SXSW With Filmmaker (12 min.): Scott Macauley of Filmmaker Magazine interviews (separately) Dree Hemingway, Sean Baker, and Besedka Johnson.
-- A Conservation With Dree and Besedka (5 min.): The actresses talk about their roles.
-- Besedka Johnson Screen Test (6 min.): As described for the first-time actress.
-- The First Rehearsal (3 min.): Hemingway and Johnson rehearse, casually.
-- Researching Melissa (4 min.): Stella Maeve talks about her research for her role, including conversations with industry professionals.
-- Theatrical Trailer (2 min.): As described.
Besedka Johnson, who made her acting debut in the film and is featured extensively in the bonus features, died last month at the age of 87, adding a further, bittersweet note.
Starlet is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Music Box Films.