Red Rocket

By Joanna Langfield

Sean Baker’s disturbing comedy may not be perfect, but when it is, which it is often, it’s dynamite.

Simon Rex is a stunner as Mikey, the down on his luck former porn star, who shows up at his estranged wife’s home in Texas with not even a cup in his hand. Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother reluctantly take him in, insisting he pay his fair share. Turns out that may not be so easy. But Mikey’s got goals. He just may have to make a few sacrifices along the way.

Baker is, without a doubt, one of our most exciting filmmakers looking at the realities of life in America. Both his Tangerine (2015) which left me breathless, and The Florida Project (2017) took us inside the lives of very real feeling characters not often given the limelight. Here, he does it again, introducing us to a collection of men and women scrambling to get by. Even those with what might be a more promising or at least safe future can be easily swayed by options that, for many of the rest of us, feel risky, at best. These people aren’t stupid, and they aren’t unengaged in the system that got them where they are. Baker subtly by definitively shows them watching their news, listening in to the Presidential candidate who promised to save them in 2015, hearing all about those emails written by his opponent. He also, not so subtly, reminds us how easy it is for a teenager, dazzled by the promise of stardom, no matter how exploitive, to step off the traditional road and make some very misguided decisions.

But Baker and his writing partner, Chris Bergoch, make sure this is no political diatribe. There’s a storyline here that could have happened at any time and, undoubtedly, has. People seduce one another. People get hurt. People escape. People take revenge.

None of this would work as well as it does without the astonishing star turn from Rex, an actor and former MTV host. As Mikey seduces his family and friends, so, too, does that actor seduce us. Yes, he’s handsome but he brings a lot more than that. The man/child he creates is savvy, aggravating and a sweetheart, who’s actually big, big trouble.