Written by Jack Ransom
Sean Baker is a director of whom I hadn't watched any of his filmography, until now. Red Rocket delivered exactly what had been heard/seen/read about his stylistic and narrative traits. Centring on an unabashedly narcissistic, yet captivating protagonist that is placed in a beautifully shot, yet bleak and sweltering dead end Texas City, you are unable to get away from the pacing problems and an overlong runtime that hold this film back.
Red Rocket sees ex porn star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) decide to crawl back to his hometown of Texas City, Texas, where his estranged wife (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law (Brenda Deiss) are living. Just as this dysfunctional family seems to be making things work, Mikey meets a young woman named Strawberry (Suzanna Son) working the cash register at a local doughnut shop. He falls right back into his old habits.
Very much in a similar vein to recent features such as C’mon C’mon & Licorice Pizza (the latter especially thematically and stylistically), this character study does an excellent job of immersing the viewer into this fractured, erratic and sleaze inflicted lifestyle that Mikey (and those around him) fit into. The film may put some viewers off with its unabashed commitment to Mikey’s graphic line of work and his obsession with utilising his romance with Strawberry as a motivation for his own return to the top, as well as his obsession with getting her porn gig…at 17. The repetitive structure reflects Mikey’s day-to-day lifestyle effectively, however I do personally think the 130 minute runtime could have been shortened.
The film looks frequently stunning throughout. There are several long tracking shots of Mikey cycling during various times of the day or driving with his neighbour (Ethan Darbone) and the smog heavy, decrepit and spacious emptiness and mundanity of the setting is given a layer of beauty. The striking editing choices, harsh zooms and comedically effective camera positioning are all superbly implemented.
Simon Rex gives a star turn here. His boundless energy, relentless motor-mouth persona and simultaneously charming humour contrasted with his (at times) visceral temper outbursts , really help craft a fleshed out character. Bree Elrod and Brenda Deiss both deliver as his snappy, layabout and troubled wife and mother-in-law. Lastly, Suzanna Son treads the line of innocent and youthful, alongside mature and bitingly witty and confident in her sexual endeavours.
Red Rocket is a solid and unique character study that wears its (at times) controversial and gratuitous subject matter on its sleeve. Simon Rex is great, the film has a captivating, atmospheric and unique visual style and is frequently bitingly funny. It is held back by a smattering of pacing problems and an overlong runtime. However I am certainly looking forward to checking out Baker’s other works.