Red Rocket. 2021
Written and Directed by Sean Baker.
Starring Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod, Ethan Darbone, Shih-Ching Tsou, Brittany Rodriguez, Marlon Lambert, Brenda Deiss, and Sam EidsonVicky.
Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back.
Upon returning to his impoverished Trumper Texan hometown, Simon Rex’s Mikey Saber seems relatively harmless despite being an irresponsible mooch. He is an award-winning porn star who recently got into trouble, forcing him to retreat from California. He claims that none of this is his fault, but considering his tendency to flat out lie; I’m not sure I believe anything he says. Nevertheless, while trying to worm his way back into a home by making up with his former co-star wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), he turned his back on and sucking up to his mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss), Red Rocket plays out as a screwball, livewire comedy leaning into the charmingly obnoxious energy of Simon Rex (most known for roles in the Scary Movie franchise, also with experience in porn). He wants to make things right even if he can’t even remember that they are still married.
They see through his shit. The neighbors that allow him to make some cash selling their drugs see through his shit. Most people see through his shit. However, a few gullible souls within the area are willing to listen to Mikey and believe his exaggerated stories of fame. One of them is a man Lexi used to babysit as a child named Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), offering free rides and whatever Mikey needs in return for being in his presence and learning a thing or two.
The other is a 17-year-old girl working at an out-of-the-way donut shop. Sadly, the 48-year-old Mikey has a chance with her. So much for not being harmless.
A crucial part of Sean Baker’s success is casting individuals with no acting background to elicit the most naturalistic performances possible. Even being aware of his trademark filmmaking techniques (which once again includes vibrant and colorful photography from Drew Daniels), it’s mind-blowing to discover that Suzanna Son, the lovestruck girl with daddy issues all too willing to fall for Mikey’s scheming and promises of living a higher class life together, is a social media influencer. She already deserves to be Oscar-nominated, just as Simon Rex should go from porn star to Oscar nominee.
If all of this sounds uncomfortable and offputting, well, good. Red Rocket is absurdly funny, but underneath the situational humor is a tragic tale of grooming that is likely depressingly common within the adult entertainment industry. Simon Rex integrates these aspects into the character for something fully fleshed out in all its grotesque glory. Sean Baker brings this all home in either one of the funniest or saddest endings ever. Regardless, it’s plain wrong, which is a gut-punch way signifying that Red Rocket does everything right.
Tickets for closing night can be purchased here.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com