Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod
Red Rocket is a shockingly spectacular surprise, and it comes from so far out of left field, so far under the radar, that you question whether it was real at all, or just a very vivid, very horny dream. The fact that Sean Baker can direct shouldn’t be a big reveal I guess, remembering his talent with Tangerine and his success with Florida Project, but even then, even with those films as lead-ins, nothing will prepare you for Red Rocket. It’s a disaster you just can’t help watching wide-eyed, a far-too-intimate look into someone’s smutty life that both makes you feel both bitterly uncomfortable and also like an extremely awesome human in comparison.
Mikey returns to his Gulf-side Texas town without a penny to his name and without an ounce of pride, crawling back to his estranged wife’s mother’s tiny house to beg for a couch to sleep on and a clean shirt to wear. He’d been off to LA to make his fortune, but the work he found was pretty bizarre, and now he’s a former porn star. That’s right, a porn star, look up Mikey Saber on YouTube he’ll happily tell you, and then he’ll tell you a hundred lies to explain why he’s in whichever current predicament he’s in. Mikey is a selfish child at best, the worst person in the world more accurately, and he’s accidentally taking every one he knows down with him.
I was shocked that this film was so excellent. I liked Florida Project just fine, that kind of “geographical drama” is interesting, painting us a very specific picture of an area, its people, its poor, its dreams. But that can also be a little too on-the-nose, like I don’t live in Florida in a motel, I don’t want to watch non-actors pretend to be prostitutes, I get the point but no thank you. Red Rocket is different; yes it’s specific to its location and uses some real people to fill its scenes, but it’s also so well written that you’d swear you were just watching one man’s incredibly fucked up life flash by right in front of your comparatively lucky eyes. Simon Rex, known for spoofs and not much of anything else, is so perfect as this sleazeball/salesman/liar/manipulator/dreamer that you’d believe it if he told you he was Daniel Day-Lewis in disguise; he’s that good and that convincing. The story is hilarious, upsetting, frantic, and then boldly deep; it’s a journey through the soul of a seemingly soulless man, to see if there’s anything in there, and in the end we won’t really know for sure. Not a film for everyone, definitely, especially given the subject matter and the high volume of sexuality, Red Rocket is nonetheless one of the best of the year, a beautiful, dangerous firework you didn’t know was being set off right next to your fucking face.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★