Red Rocket

Filmmaker Sean Baker follows up his American masterpiece The Florida Project, a drama about a helpless community living on the fringe of fantasy, with Red Rocket, another winner that dabbles in the same wheelhouse but broadening its scope to a rural population.  And much like how The Florida Project found humour in innocence, Red Rocket finds humour in ignorance.

Ex-adult film star Mikey Saber (a phenomenal Simon Rex) surprises old friends (and his wayward wife) by returning to his former stomping ground in Texas.  The implied history is that Mikey most likely left in a hurry while burning bridges because hardly anyone is excited to reunite with him.  There may be more implied suggestions as to why Mikey has suddenly left his L.A. lifestyle the way he hangs on to his experience as a porn star (he’ll tell anyone with ears about how many awards he’s won), and all the luxuries he had access to.  Why would he leave if he was so successful?  The point to Mikey is that you’re not supposed to question his past because he keeps you on edge about what he’ll do next.  And he gets aways with it due to his bottomless stock of charisma.  The challenge with the Mikey character, however, is when his leaching and selfishness starts poisoning people around him.  Most notably an underage coffee shop employee named Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who Mikey envisions as the next big porn star.

Unlike Mikey, director/co-writer Baker isn’t trying to trick the audience into overlooking uncomfortable situations.  Rex and Son work ridiculously well off of each other, but the relationship between Mikey and Strawberry is off-the-charts problematic.  Mikey gradual flirtations becomes a grooming manoeuvre to gain Strawberry’s trust.  Strawberry, whole falling for Mikey’s charm, is whip-smart and has the ability to turn the tables, which she often does.  Red Rocket is very transparent while handling this dynamic, and makes it clear that Mikey isn’t someone we should be siding with.  Baker (and frequent co-writer Chris Bergoch) create a challenging character study of desperation through rose-coloured glasses that can be applied to the film’s undisciplined adult and its precocious teen.  The same study can be applied to the many everyday characters that fill in the movie’s withered landscape (played exceptionally well by new and natural actors).

Red Rocket is one of those movies you can’t take your eyes off of.  It challenges us just as often as if tickles our funny bone, and it’s one of the best movies of 2021.

Read Jolie Featherstone’s review of Red Rocket


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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