This is an engaging and creative American film from late last year that has all the pace and deliberation of a 70s classic, and the whimsy and complexity of something much more recent. It's easily one of the better micro-independent US films I've seen the past several years. "STARLET" is set in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, an area which typically invokes two quick associations in people not from there: slow-witted, slang-talking "Valley Girls", and the hub of the American pornography industry. Check and check, as far as this film goes.
It stars Dree Hemingway (Dree!), whom I only just today learned is Mariel's daughter and Ernest's great-granddaughter. She's terrific as a bright-eyed, slightly dim LA transplant named Jane from Florida who spends most of her time in impossibly short shorts, walking around the sun-kissed suburban streets and desolate desert-ish landscapes with her little dog. We know that she works, doing something, we're just not sure what that is until about midway through the film. It arrives as something of a shock, though not without some foreshadowing vis-a-vis her two dumber male and female roommates, who are also in the same industry. Jane (working name = Tess) makes hardcore porn look like just another career option among many for young female transplants; you get the sense that she'd just as soon pick up work as a phone solicitor or waitress, if they paid the same amount of money. The film refrains from moralizing about her career choice, her industry, and the people that work in it; it just is, though it's also easy to render independent judgement on the douchebags in the film who attempt to capitalize on young women like Jane.
That out of the way, the porn angle is artfully introduced, and then tossed away, as a way to help you stamp your own judgment to what's ultimately a morality tale and a woman's moral awakening. Jane, perpetually near-broke, finds thousands of dollars within an old thermos she purchases at a yard sale. The old woman, Sadie, who sells her this treasure has no idea what she gave up, but, as we learn, it doesn't really matter. Jane, either out of guilt or a need for an anchoring mother figure or both, goes way out of her way to befriend Sadie and integrate herself deeply into her life. She does this ham-handedly and without subtlety, yet somehow it works, and an unlikely friendship develops. We don't really know what's driving either of these two, and despite some rockiness, it's clear that each fills a gaping need for the other. Only at the end of the film do we get a sense of just what that is for Sadie, and even then, there are loads of relationship and emotional fodder for discussion and dissection afterward.
"STARLET" is streaming on Netflix. Hedonist Jive says check it out.