Red Rocket: Sean Baker’s Satirical Portrait of Life on the Fringes, Well Acted by Simon Rex

Sean Baker’s movies are about a slice of Americana. Both Tangerine and The Florida Project examined those on the margins of society, defining voices for representation of contemporary Americana.

Recurring preoccupations regarding socioeconomic injustice and the validity of sex work mixed with an empathetic, vibrant immediacy in the depiction of his outcasts

In Red Rocket, the setting is Texas City in 2016, election coverage is on every television set.

Riding back into his run-down refinery hometown via bus is one Mikey Saber (Rex, former pornographic actor, model, and MTV VJ).

He is a washed-up adult film star with energetic, charming demeanor to only mildly offset his contemptible actions and narcissistic ego.

Mikey still thinks he’s hot shit, even after falling through in his career and running back home to beg his estranged wife Lexi (Elrod) and her mom, Lil (Deiss) for hospitality.

He manages to convince them to let him stay, not that anyone else wants anything to do with him. He then goes on a halfhearted job search, but no one in town wants to hire someone who did something as inconceivable as porn.

As a result, Mikey resorts to running weed for the begrudging town supplier Leondria (Hill) and bumming around with an acquaintance he vaguely recognizes from his youth, Lonnie (Darbone)

A visit to the local donut shop ends in gross infatuation with the 17-year-old girl working the counter, Strawberry (Son).

This quickly develops into a 40-year-old man stringing along a naive high schooler who he sees as his one-way ticket back into Hollywood, while she believes that she has found a man who may actually love her.

Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch have made a satire about the exploits and blunders of a man who’s essentially the villain of the movie.

Mikey Saber completely wrecks the lives of every single person he comes across for the sake of his own personal gain. Every relationship he pretends to rekindle or newly foster is purely transactional and brazenly fake.

He’s portrayed with a disturbing vitality by Rex, as a knotty character. Director Baker makes someone as terrible as Mikey watchable. and the actor pulls it off with arresting magnetism and endearment. He’s often genuinely funny, but it’s never far out of sight how much of a sociopathic he is.

In the background, the Trump and Hillary Clinton coverage isn’t just a coincidence. Baker (along with cinematographer Drew Daniels) captures the ethos and texture of America on the fringes

The 16mm photography makes scenes feel dynamic and alive, punctuated by a sporadic crash zoom or abrupt cut to the soundtrack – the recurring motif of ’N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” is particularly memorable.

Red Rocket is Baker’s most nuanced character study yet, one that’s often as hilarious as it is uncomforting. It’s clear that Mikey is partially a result of his environment, but it’s never out of the question that deep down he’s just a horrible person, instilled with ferocious self-absorption and destructive masculinity.

 

More than Baker’s previous features, Red Rocket concentrates on that ambiguous line between where a person’s mistakes or flaws can be chalked up as the result of precarious economic conditions, and when they go too far past the brink to become persons beyond justification or redemption.

The cast is drawn significantly from nonprofessional actors, most of whom are newcomers, which contributes to the film’s sense of authenticity.

Cast

Simon Rex as Mikey Saber
Bree Elrod as Lexi, Mikey’s ex-wife
Suzanna Son, as “Strawberry”
Brenda Deiss as Lil, Lexi’s mother
Judy Hill as Leondria, drug dealer
Marlon Lambert as Ernesto
Brittany Rodriguez as June, Leondria’s daughter
Ethan Darbone as Lonnie, Mikey’s childhood friend
Shih-Ching Tsou as Ms. Phan, Strawberry’s boss
Parker Bigham as Nash, Strawberry’s ex-boyfriend
Brandy Kirl as Nash’s mom
Dustin “Hitman” Hart as Nash’s dad