Silver Linings Playbook - poster artSilver Linings Playbook should have won nothing at the Independent Spirit Awards last night. Beyond the fact that this movie just is not that good (my review) with glaring fundamental issues in tone hidden by saccharine sentimentality, this movie practically swept the ceremony despite breaking the number 2 rule of the awards. If you had not heard, Silver Linings Playbook was allowed into competition despite being over budget by $1 million. The limit is $20 million. Here is a link to the PDF of rules, note number 2 under rules and eligibility: Independent Spirit Awards Submission Information). According to Box Office Mojo, note the film’s budget: Silver Linings Playbook on Box Office Mojo. That is plain enough.

But there is no denying the power of the man behind the studio that released the film, Harvey Weinstein. The film, chock full of adorable actors precious to star gazers (the film even has every acting category covered at tonight’s Oscars®), had the momentum ever since coming out of Sundance last year. I was even intrigued back then. However, the flimsiness in the film’s tone and the derivative story of another crazy trying to adjust to the outside world never moved this viewer. In fact, the humor seemed downright appalling if not condescending. But Weinstein knows what movie to get behind to get the gold, as he’s proven for many years. Here is a terrific article in the “Wall Street Journal” exploring his campaign for SLP: Read Merissa Marr’s article “Inside the Oscar Playbooks.”

It just goes to show it’s about playing a game and not about celebrating art. As time goes on I grow more cynical about awards ceremonies. It should not surprise me that the Independent Spirit Awards would go this way, as well (heck, the things I have heard about tiny, regional film festivals and their awards should have long left me jaded). But I had thought the Independent Spirit Awards was small enough and independent enough, but lo… If you care to see the full list of winners, here they are (Note: I was not entirely disappointed, fine choices for wins include best foreign film Amour [my review], documentary the Invisible War, cinematography for Beasts of the Southern Wild and finally some recognition for the underrated Safety Not Guaranteed. But Starlet’s recognition also left me surprised, seeing as that was one of the more flimsy films of the year for this writer, as well [my review]. Just call me disenchanted by this whole thing):

Full list of winners:

BEST FEATURE

Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

BEST SCREENPLAY

Silver Linings Playbook

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Safety Not Guaranteed

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD

Middle of Nowhere

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

BEST MALE LEAD

John Hawkes, The Sessions

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST DOCUMENTARY

The Invisible War

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

Amour

16th ANNUAL PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD

Mynette Louie

19th ANNUAL SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD

Adam Leon, Gimme the Loot

STELLA ARTOIS TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD

Peter Nicks, The Waiting Room

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD

Starlet

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Starlet poster art. Courtesy of Music Box Films.I can appreciate a lo-fi film as much as the next guy who got into cinema with Werner Herzog and the Dogma years of Lars Von Trier. But Herzog and Von Trier know how to harness the power of raw acting and subvert what may seem an aimless story into a transcendent statement. Starlet, the fourth film by “Greg the Bunny” co-creator Sean Baker, tries to do this but stumbles with characters that never have the chemistry promised by its premise and ends with a limp finale disguised as some sort of profound reveal that the film never seems to earn. In-between there are problematic detours in character behavior and the superfluous notion that unsimulated sex does something to raise the film’s story to some other level.

Dree Hemingway (the great-granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway and daughter of Mariel Hemingway) plays the film’s lead character, Jane. She’s a young woman jumping into the hardcore pornography business in Los Angeles. The title, however, may also refer to her pet Chihuahua, a male dog she named Starlet, which it may as well be all about. The film feels that aimless. It could also reference— and this is the film’s most interesting but under-explored idea— Sadie (Besedka Johnson in her first film, and it shows in a bad, distant way) Sadie (Besedka Johnson) and Jane (Dree Hemingway) in STARLET. Courtesy of Music Box Films.the elderly woman Jane tries so hard to befriend. It seems Sadie may have been a Hollywood screen siren in her heyday, based on some background characters reaction to spotting her at a coffee shop with Jane, halfway through the film. Beyond that, Sadie always maintains a distance from Jane. They never seem to bond, though Jane keeps trying to insert herself into Sadie’s life by offering her rides to Bingo games and the supermarket or just inviting herself over to Sadie’s house.

The relationship begins with the problematic premise that Jane would even care to be part of Sadie’s life after she buys a thermos off Sadie during a garage sale. It turns out to contain about $10,000 in cash, which Jane discovers while washing it out in her kitchen sink (who would have thought that much cash would barely weigh down a thermos?).

Jane (Dree Hemingway) in STARLET. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

When Jane finds the money, she goes off and starts spending it on things like a $460 manicure and a bejeweled harness for her dog. Jane then returns to Sadie’s house who tells her, “I told you there’s no refunds.” Still, Jane persists, offering her a ride at the supermarket after she pays Sadie’s waiting taxi cab driver to leave. Jane never mentions the money she found, she instead invites herself into Sadie’s house, who chastises her at every turn, when she picks up her chotskies (“Don’t touch that!”) or shares a glass of water with Starlet (“What are you doing? That’s disgusting… and you’re drinking out of it?!”).

Their relationship remains cold and awkward throughout. In her micro shorts and cut-off tops, Jane never seems to make a real effort to connect with Sadie who almost always looks at Jane with disgust. jane-dree-hemingway-and-sadie-besedka-johnson-in-starlet-courtesy-of-music-box-filmsJane’s shallow questions and comments like, “I like your garden,” never seem to penetrate Sadie. A chemistry never appears, though Jane asks questions of Sadie often. Whatever obscure motivation she might have to befriend Sadie after taking her money remains a mystery, which in turn fails to highlight their relationship, scene after aimless scene. Only when Sadie maces Jane, after she asks Sadie if she ever wins at Bingo, does the film offer something authentic between these two. Conflict is always important between characters, but the conflict must also bring them together, and this movie never does.

The acting also fails to rise to the subtle requirements these characters need for sympathy from the audience. The desperation of the director to reveal Jane’s character is never more visceral than in his decision to show her giving unsimulated head to an actor and being penetrated during her first sex performance for the camera (through some smart editing, porn star Zoe Voss plays Hemingway’s body double). However, her character never seems to change and remains as clueless as ever. The X-rated sex comes across as shocking and unnecessary. Is not the implication she works in porn enough of a reveal?

The only interesting actress in the movie turns out to be Jane’s Oxycontin-popping, pot smoking roommate Melissa (Stella Maeve), an already established porn actress. Jane (Dree Hemingway) and Melissa (Stella Maeve). Courtesy of Music Box Films.During one scene, the desperate and conniving Melissa comes roaring to life, as Maeve reveals a dynamic ability to tap into something primal during an argument between Melissa and Jane. It is as if Maeve is trying to show Hemingway how to act.

Small moments of interesting acting are not enough to save this film, however. With its slight, contrived pay off, Starlet is a long film to have to endure for all its half-assed effort. It almost has a salacious and exploitative quality toward Hemingway, which only adds to my disdain for this film. Starlet harbors the potential for something close to heartfelt, but the director only seems to grope around the edges, if only he could stop focusing on Hemingway’s legs.

Hans Morgenstern

Starlet is not rated (beyond the drug use and language, there is, of course, the unsimulated sex, so mature audiences only) and runs 103 min. It is currently playing in South Florida at the Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, which provided a preview screener for the purpose of this review. If you are in other parts of the US, find out where its playing by visiting the film’s official website.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)