Perhaps no other filmmaker captures the every day realities of poor and impoverished Americans like the rising star, Sean Baker. The director possesses a unique ability to immerse his and decade-long writing partner, Chris Bergoch’s, stories into the souls of the downtrodden. This rare perspective expands the mind and commands empathy by shining a light on the darkest shadows of society. Baker and Bergoch return with another deep dive into the vortex of the forgotten with their festival hit, Red Rocket.
The film opens with former porn star Mikey Saber (played by former MTV VJ, Simon Rex) returning to his hometown of Texas City, Texas broke and jobless, begging his estranged wife of many years, Lexi (Bree Elrod), for a place to stay. Promising to help around their tiny, beaten-down house and pay rent, Lexi and her mom agree to let Mikey sleep on the couch. As he slowly works to regain their trust, Mikey meets a beautiful, young 17 year-old girl named Strawberry (Suzanna Son) who ignites a spark in him to return to an industry that’s bled him dry.
Red Rocket stands on the shoulders of Simon Rex’s fascinating and infectious lead character, Mikey, whose appeal becomes unavoidable despite his many indiscretions. Sean Baker and co-writer, Chris Bergoch, employ the brilliant tactic of introducing the audience to Mikey when he’s at his most desperate, subconsciously forging a rooting interest in the minds of the viewers. Then, through the slow and meticulous development of his character, Simon Rex opens your eyes to who Mikey truly is as a person. His motives are almost uniformly impure and selfish, but often carried out masterfully through Mikey’s expertise at manipulation. This gradual revelation of the character’s narcissistic essence emerges crisply from a spectacular performance by Simon Rex, a former real-life comedian and porno actor, ironically, who has transformed himself into an indie standout overnight. Without Rex’s natural comedic flair and boundless charisma, Red Rocket probably wouldn’t work as well as it does.
Bursting onto the scene as the prominent filmmaker behind critically acclaimed works like Tangerine and The Florida Project, Sean Baker has proven his ability to craft interesting characters lost in the forgotten parts of America. Baker continues this trend once again but shows an added level of maturity through his exceptional construction of the anti-hero Mikey. He leaves a wake of destruction wherever he goes, both figuratively and literally. And while the audience should turn their backs on him at any of his countless despicable actions, instead we watch with bated breath, completely wrapped around the fingers of Baker and Rex as they take us on a truly wild ride. Red Rocket tackles an admittedly uncomfortable subject matter, but does so with a humorous and energetic edge that makes this film one of the year’s most unforgettable.