“Starlet” is like a flower growing out of a septic tank.
The story of the friendship between a San Fernando Valley porn actress (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly widow (Besedka Johnson) is certainly unlikely — in movies, is there any other kind? But the relationship also has a sweetness that’s spontaneous, unforced and a tiny bit tough, belying the story’s milieu of mechanical sex, drugs and melodramatic, if hollow, emotional connection.
The relationship is the best thing about the film, which otherwise feels hopelessly sad and tawdry.
The second best thing is the dog whose name lends the film its somewhat ironic title. The chihuahua Starlet (played, according to the credits, by a dog named Boonee) is a natural ham. He — and yes, it’s a he, despite the girlie name — lights up the screen whenever he’s on, even though he’s asleep much of the time.
The two leads have a relaxed rapport, too. Playing the curmudgeonly Sadie, Johnson — who was discovered while exercising at a YMCA — doesn’t “act” so much as just be. And Hemingway (the daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway) brings an easy charm to Jane, a lost soul who strikes up a relationship with the old woman after purchasing a thermos from her at a yard sale and finding it stuffed with about $10,000 in cash.