Starlet the Movie on Netflix

Would you invest in this movie?

A young woman forms an attachment to an older woman who is no bag of charm. The young woman is a porn star and the old woman is depressed, living in a small, oppressive house. The actress who plays the porn star is a fashion model in real life. She has an inexpressive, mask like face, almost anonymous in its prettiness without the voluptuous figure you associate with porn. Anonymity and beauty are close cousins. The old woman is played by an 85 year old who never acted before and was discovered in a YMCA. The young woman has a dog which sleeps through most of the movie. The director has credits such as Warren the Ape and Greg the Bunny.

Sounds like it would be worth dumping a pile of money down that well, right?

But the movie, Starlet, now on Netflix, is an astonishing success at every turn. It works on all levels. The director (and co-writer) doesn’t focus on the porn background, nor the dog, as might be expected. His brilliant editing gives time and room to the characters. He trusts the audience as much as the actors.

The actresses are startling in their naturalness. There are long pauses in speech, leaving room for the resonance of feeling. There are no characters who are dislikable, including the porn crew or the flaky roomate. There is no sentimentalizing. There is no condescension toward the old, those who may have made poor choices, no effort to explain or fill in much background history. The movie is about a relationship in the here and now.

Without a single ingratiating move by the old woman as actress or character, nor a great effort to be likable by either of the two actresses, the audience is allowed to come to them. Dree Hemingway, a model who plays a porn star, is a wonderful actress. Her mother, Mariel Hemingway, was very good herself in Robert Towne’s Personal Best. But Dree Hemingway has a lightness and the aura of invulnerability bestowed by innocence; her character sails through life. Even though a porn star – and sometimes the toughness does show – her character is by nature intelligent and empathic.

Great movie.