Filmmaker Sean Baker is one of the most talented independent film directors working today, and by far one of the most humanist. Whether it's the transgender sex workers in "Tangerine" or the stripper mom living with her daughter at a hotel in "The Florida Project," Baker casts an honest and empathetic look on their lives, both the tragic and the comic aspects. And always, keeping it authentic.
His latest, "Red Rocket," is no less revealing in its depiction of a fortysomething porn star (Simon Rex) who returns to his humble roots in Texas City, Texas. As with all Baker protagonists and their foibles, "Mikey Saber" is not exactly a good guy. He's far from it. But he's charming, sometimes means well, and it's impossible to look away from the potential train wrecks he's crafting in his life. He's kind of a bastard. But he has his moments.
Is this movie, about Mikey's attempts to crawl back into the life of his ex-wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) while also checking out the local doughnut shop employee Raylee (Suzanna Son), worth watching? Well, Baker turned "The Florida Project" into one of the best films of 2017. So there's lots of potential. See below for our review.
Reasons to Watch
1) The film was deservedly nominated for the top prize, the Palme d'Or, at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It's also been nominated for Best Actor (Simon Rex) and Best Supporting Female (Suzanna Son) for the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards. It's an entertaining and original story about an admittedly sleazy underdog.
2) Simon Rex, formerly known mostly for a few "Scary Movie" comedies and his stint as an MTV VJ in the '90s, is perfect as the somehow likeable unlikeable lead. He does lots of thoroughly despicable and selfish things throughout the film. But you're compelled to see where it will all lead. You also realize that deep down, the guy himself thinks he's a good guy…even if he isn't.
3) Suzanna Son and Bree Elrod are amazing as the female foils in this tale who willingly put up with Mikey's shenanigans. They'll likely engender a lot more sympathy than the movie's nominal "hero." But as with all Baker characters, they're allowed to be fully realized, three-dimensional human beings.
1) Mainstream moviegoers, or those with a more conservative, traditional values bent, will be put off with both the subject matter (i.e. an ex-porn star who lives life like an ex-porn star) and his relationship with the decades younger Raylee / Strawberry. Their relationship may be legal in Texas, but it'll be a reason to tune out for many.
2) Baker, as always, does an incredible job creating some hilarious scenarios that run right into pretty hardcore, potentially devastating realities. The blend can be jarring, especially at the conclusion. To many of his fans, it's the entire point. But for others, it can just be awkward.
3) Rex's performance is excellent, but he may be the hardest amongst all of Baker's film characters to lend sympathy. The good news is, as infuriating as the guy can be, he's human.
Watch or Not?
With "Red Rocket," if you're a fan of independent film and especially if you're a Sean Baker fan, we highly recommend watching it as soon as possible.
This is yet another story about people on the fringe who are just as worthy and fallible as the rest of us. As with all Sean Baker films, the guy digs deep into stories and characters who would never get their full due in a simple or sensationalized media article. By movie's end, you may not agree with the characters at the heart of "Red Rocket." But you'll know, and can feel empathy, for them.
December 10, 2021
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.