Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back.
Sean Baker’s movies to date have focused on those on the margins of American society, whether it be the transgender prostitutes in ‘Tangerine’ or a struggling young mother and her daughter holed up at a cheap motel in ‘The Florida Project’, minutes away from the magic of the Disney theme parks. ‘Red Rocket’, his latest movie, is another exploration of the flipside of the American dream, from the perspective of a fading porn star who left his small industrial town in Texas 20 years earlier for the bright lights of LA, before returning in the present to his ex-wife’s house essentially penniless.
He is Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), and interestingly after the mostly sympathetic characters of ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Tangerine’, he is possibly one of the most self-obsessed central characters in any film, only he doesn’t appear to realise it. This lack of self-awareness makes him an intriguing case study as we follow him around his hometown of Texas City where he still misguidedly believes he is a somebody on account of his time in Los Angeles. He doesn’t pick up that he’s yesterdays man and that no one is interested in who he is and what he has to say, and that his behaviour makes him appear as little more than a narcissist who still thinks he’s better than those he is now surrounded by. He uses his ex-wife (Bree Elrod) for a place to stay, he uses her next door neighbour Lonnie (Ethan Darbone) to drive him everywhere and his behaviour with a teenager who works at a local donut shop is creepy at best and borderline criminal at worst.
She’s a young girl who goes by the name Strawberry (Suzanna Son, in a brilliant performance) and the dynamic between her and Mikey is deeply compelling. He sees her both as a path back into the porn industry and as someone who reminds him of his younger years, unaware of how his behaviour falls firmly in the grooming category. Rex is a former star of essentially B-movies with a minor period in porn and modelling, so he fits perfectly with this material in another piece of inspired casting from Baker. He perfectly captures Mikey’s lack of self-awareness to his creepy, almost childlike demeanour clearly borne out of an adult life spent in the artificiality of the porn industry. It’s not the kind of role that gets Oscars attention but it really should. Opposite him, Son is terrific as Strawberry as she moves between naivety, innocence and a sense that perhaps she is using Mikey for her own means as well.
Like his previous movies, Baker shoots ‘Red Rocket’ with a bright colour palette and finds some super locations where tourists wouldn’t go and where the inhabitants are living on the margins of society. Texas City is an old industrial town where the evidence of industry cannot be escaped, and in that Baker finds some brilliant contrasts between the huge industrial plants and the bright colours of the donut shop where Strawberry works for example. In terms of the plot I thought the film was constantly surprising and unfolds in mysterious ways before building to a really super ending that is perfect for what came before. This is a top, top film and Sean Baker is 3 for 3 from my perspective (have yet to see his debut ‘Starlet‘ which I believe has similarities to ‘Red Rocket‘) – great use of the band NSYNC as well!
Directed By: Sean Baker
Starring: Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Ethan Darbone, Shih-Ching Tsou and Parker Bigham
[…] from perhaps more glamorous portrayals of this particular lifestyle. Coming after the excellent ‘Red Rocket’ earlier this year, it’s another movie not afraid to delve into the darker excesses of this […]
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