When last we encountered writer / director Sean Baker on these pages (pixels?) it was in conjunction with Tangerine, an exceptionally well made low budget film about two street hustlers on Christmas Eve.
Starlet was his film prior to that, and like Tangerine it is a well written, flawlessly performed, ultimately upbeat and sweet-without-being-cloy film about an aspiring young actress (read: porn performer) who strikes up an unlikely relationship with an elderly woman.
As with Tangerine, there’s a marvelous multi-level look at morality and what is right and wrong, and also how conventional ideas of morality may not be what a specific situation calls for.
It ends with a “to know all is to forgive all” moment that works really well, an unexpected but wholly logical twist.
It reminds me of the very best of the golden age of live TV ala Playhouse 90 et al, stories about real people with real problems and situations.
I’m all for thunderous escapism, but we also need touchstones of reality, and frankly that’s been lacking in much of our popular entertainment, with stories focused too often on larger-than-life situations and outre’ characters.
Spending 103 minutes with Tess (Dee Hemingway) and Sadie (Besedka Johnson) is a refreshing and uplifting experience. I can almost recommend this movie without hesitation.
The NSFW Component
Starlet’s basic story, even though it involves porn performers, could be a Hallmark Channel movie. While the language gets salty in places, there’s some dope smoking, and references to off camera activities, by and large Starlet doesn’t focus on that aspect of the characters but rather on Tess’ efforts to come to terms with her unexpected windfall and her attempt to do right by Sadie, who unknowingly is the source of said windfall.
You could honestly give this script a light edit and keep 95% of the story intact and suitable for PG-13 audiences.
But Baker includes a scene set at a porn shoot that while out of focus and comprised of fast cuts sure looks like a full bore porn shoot.
I’m no prude and I would never tell another creator how they should tell their story, and while the point of the porn shoot scene is to make sure the audience doesn’t whitewash the character in their mind, I think the explicitness of the scene breaks the rhythm of the story.
So I want to recommend Starlet (currently on Netflix) to you, but caution you what to expect.
And as for director Sean Baker, I want to see more of his work. He’s got my attention and I like the types of stories he tells.
 Yes, related to Ernest; she’s his granddaughter through Margaux.
 Tragically in her first and only film role; she died less than a year after the film was completed.
 The name of Tess’ Chihuahua, BTW.
 There’s also a later scene in which some nude performers pass by the camera but there is no sexual activity seen, and a scene at an adult video convention that avoids straying into R-rated territory.
 Tess’ co-star is upstanding in his role if you know what I mean and I think you do.
 Take a look at my resume’.
 Conversely, Tangerine’s equally explicit motel scene/s are part of that film’s rhythm and do not seem out of place with the rest of the story.