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The Independent Critic

Debra Haden, Rah Digga, Miley Rose, Eva Dorrepaal, Meredith Binder, Sophia Lamar
Mars Roberge
Doron Braunshtein (Story by), Patty Powers (Story Editor), Mars Roberge (Screenplay)
107 Mins.

 Movie Review: Stars 
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Fresh off its world premiere at the mid-February Winter Film Awards International Film Festival, Mars Roberge's Stars is a beautifully rendered tapestry of cinematic grit portraying both the honesty of lives most would consider dark and the thread of hope that tends to allow us to survive our darkest times. Set in the parts of New York City not typically portrayed in cinema or seen on postcards, Stars is narratively centered around Bianca (Debra Haden), an undercover cop hiding in a NYC women's shelter in an effort to help clean up the neighborhood crime and protect the women. Herself troubled, Bianca grieves the not so distant loss of her own family to a drunk driver while somehow attempting to rein in the violence that seems to follow around women like Madonna (Miley Rose), Oprah (Rah Digga), Martha Stewart (Meredith Binder), Lauren Hutton (Eva Dorrepaal), and Juliette "Lucifer" Lewis (Sophia Lamar). 

Seemingly hindered from their hopes and dreams by all the familiar social ills like prostitution, addiction, gambling, mental illness, and more, these women are fierce yet fractured and hiding behind these personas in a seemingly fruitless attempt to escape their harsh realities. Based upon a play by Doron Braunshtein, Stars is both uncomfortable to watch and brutal in its reality even as these women are learning that a tiny glimmer of hope is worth far more than all the money in the world. 

Cody Stauffer's lensing for Stars is mesmerizing, capturing the reality and wonder of the NYC underbelly but never succumbing to its darkness. It's Stauffer's lens that really immersed me in this world, a world also brought vividly to life by Michael Cashmore's atmosphere setting original score. Roberge edits the film with precision and patience that allows us to linger alongside this immensely gifted ensemble. 

Debra Haden soars as Bianca, capturing both grit and vulnerability and a sense that she's aware she could so easily be among these women she works to protect. The presence of rap legend Rah Digga is a major casting coup here because she's both extraordinarily talented and relentlessly charismatic. When Rah Digga's on the screen, you simply watch the screen. The same is true for the youthful Miley Rose, whose performance here is brash and bold and oh so aching. 

The list goes on, of course, as there's not really a weak link in this compelling ensemble. If you're at all familiar with the NYC indie scene, you'll likely recognize a few of the familiar faces including Canadian pop music legend Spooky Ruben as Ralph and veteran TV actor Freddy Bastone (The Sopranos, Law and Order) as Max, a married lawyer with two kids who's also a regular john for Eva Dorrepaal's (Catfight) Lauren. 

Stars isn't a film for everyone. Roberge exhibits tremendous artistic integrity here in refusing to compromise the inherent darkness of the story in an effort to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Writing the screenplay from Braunshtein's original story, Roberge tells an honest story and tells it incredibly well. Stars grabs our attention and refuses to let us go until we've immersed ourselves in the lives of these women and the world that surrounds them and occasionally seems to suffocate them. 

For those willing to engage with refreshingly honest storytelling and true indie cinema, Stars will without a doubt be an immensely rewarding and unforgettable experience. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic