Puppets and Starlets: Sean Baker Goes Inside the Porn Biz
By Karina Longworth
An empathic, absorbing tale of the old and the beautiful, Starlet tracks an unlikely intergenerational friendship in the San Fernando Valley. Florida transplant Jane (Dree Hemingway) is employed by one of the area's main engines of commerce, breaking into the XXX industry and cheerfully working adult-movie trade shows. When not gently advising her roommate and co-worker Melissa (Stella Maeve) about the dangers posed by snorting oxy or by her equally tooted-up boyfriend, the ascendant 21-year-old porn actress, with her Chihuahua of the title in tow, amasses bric-a-brac found at yard sales. A thermos purchased from crotchety, long-widowed Sadie (Besedka Johnson) turns out to have $10,000 stashed inside it; keeping the loot, Jane relentlessly pursues companionship with the octogenarian, out of guilt, loneliness, or a more emotionally complex motive. Hemingway, daughter of Mariel (who also memorably played a worker in the skin trade in 1983's Star 80), and Johnson, an 86-year-old first-time performer discovered at a local YMCA, both bring the right amount of aggression and obstinacy for this bizarre push-pull dynamic to work. Director Sean Baker, co-writing his fourth feature with Chris Bergoch, does some deft balancing of his own: His genuine admiration for these two women extends to their idiosyncrasies, yet they never become fools, whores, saints, or coots.
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