Red Rocket (2021)
May 5, 2024 11:54 AM - Subscribe

Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back.

The audacious new film from writer-director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine), starring Simon Rex in a magnetic, live-wire performance, Red Rocket is a darkly funny and humane portrait of a uniquely American hustler and a hometown that barely tolerates him.

Sarah Ward: Rex is so awards-worthily commanding — so seductive and sleazy in tandem, all while playing a livewire of a thorny character with so little self-awareness — that it's plain to see why the film was scripted with him in mind. Baker fills other key parts with non-professionals, as he has a history of doing, and there's zero weak links in what proves a riotous character study of an entrancing yet toxic and deluded hustler, and also a freewheeling snapshot of small industrial town lives that's fuelled by authenticity on several levels. It's little wonder, then, that cinematographer Drew Daniels (Waves) lenses the picture like it's caught between magic hour-hued fantasies and scrappy social realism. That's Baker's favourite aesthetic, and straddling juxtapositions is baked into his latest movie everywhere it can be. Perhaps that's why Red Rocket also feels like exactly what Baker was destined to do after the similarly phenomenal The Florida Project, but also firmly its own glorious journey. That ain't no lie, either.

Katherine McLaughlin: Some may dislike the way such a repellent figure is painted in such a mischievous manner, but it makes the character all the more credible and the film an incredibly entertaining and funny watch. If you have never come across a man equally as charming and full of crap as Mikey then you should count yourself lucky. With Red Rocket, Baker has crafted another masterpiece full of searing highs, black humour and comical hijinks, with a lot to say about the modern world and politics. The money shot? A riotous and utterly thrilling full-frontal, on-foot chase that will have you gasping for air – this is the best comedy of the year.

Amber Wilkinson: Talking a mile a minute and with high expectations, he also starts grooming a teenage employee Raylee (Suzanna Son) of the local Donut Hole, whose nickname, Strawberry, is just ready made for the porn industry, in his opinion. He also forges a quasi-friendship with the no-hoper next door (Ethan Darbone), whose car proves handy for getting him from a to be when he's not riding back and forth in front of Texas City's belching industry on a push bike. Baker and Rex work as a team, making Mikey's casual exploitation of everyone around him deplorable but allowing him to retain just enough charm to see how he often gets away with it and just pathetic enough to retain an ounce of sympathy. In case this doesn't remind you of anyone, Donald Trump - jaundiced by an old screen - pops up on TV here in the run-up to the 2016 election, Rex's man-child, often exploitative behaviour a mirror of sorts to the former president.

The grooming of Strawberry may have some moments of levity but that, in many ways, makes it all the more uncomfortable. It might not, on the surface, be as serious as the treatment a similar subject gets in Palm Trees And Power Lines but Baker is smuggling in the same set of tough questions for the audience beneath the veil of humour - about how easy it is for a guy like Mikey to keep on trucking and how appealing his version of snake oil could be for a kid who's looking to get out of her current environment.

posted by Carillon (7 comments total)
Sean Baker really has a knock for portraying parts of the country that are otherwise obscured or hidden by popular culture. I really appreciate though how he is able to never obscure the poverty or degradation, it never becomes just exploitation. I guess by that I mean you never forget how poor the characters are, or how precarious their existence is, but the characters are allowed to show off their humanity and shine.

This movie is both funny and uncomfortable. I've been thinking a lot about it since I saw it. At the start I told my partner, I feel like his like is a roller coaster, and you understand how and why folks by into him on the journey up, up, up until it tips over into self-destruction. I didn't expect for there then to be an actual roller coaster right at this tipping point though.

The one thing that left me a bit puzzled, is that I'm not sure why Leondria went along with robbing him at the end. Perhaps it was enough that she went over to the house that one time? But I still am not 100% sure how I read her betrayal of him. I could see June doing that, but more as a solo project? I'm not sure.
posted by Carillon at 12:03 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]

Is this streaming somewhere? I remember seeing the trailer for it and I might have a look-see.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:57 PM on May 5

I watched it on Prime for free!
posted by Carillon at 1:17 PM on May 5

It's actually set to leave prime in five days, so watch it now while you can!
posted by miss-lapin at 5:47 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


I've always found this movie to be very funny & watchable, but it really leans into the 'grooming' aspect as almost aspirational. The ending is even Mikey's dream after everything in his plan has gone out the window - the movie just couldn't end on that downnote, nor on Strawberry's response to 'sorry, I have no money but we're still going to LA and I'm going to make you a pornstar!!!" Like it couldn't even give her that much agency.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:34 AM on May 8

Finished it, liked it; not sure if I'm going to follow this with any of Sean Baker's other stuff, although I've also heard good things about The Florida Project. I will say that I tend to agree with the Wikipedia summary that the ending is Mikey's fantasy, not anything remotely like what actually happened (I'm guessing that Mikey probably went either back to LA or to some other town that he hadn't burned his bridges in and had another acquaintance to mooch off of); Strawberry probably had a very awkward senior year but also probably got her job back. And I think that Leondria probably went along with the robbery because she knew that Mikey probably had something to do with Lonny's situation (poor Lonny) and if he'd been caught with weed would have given her up in a heartbeat.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:33 PM on May 8

Tangerine and The Florida Project are two of my favorite movies, so I would definitely encourage those. Way more than Red Rocket, it focuses on those who are on the receiving end marginalization. Mikey here really is more on both sides of things. So depending on what you liked about this, it could be more or less interesting.
posted by Carillon at 12:38 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

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