130 Mins(4 out of 5)
Reviewed by: Sam Hollis
Like his previous films, particularly the acclaimed The Florida Project, Sean Baker zeroes in on outcasts and misfits in Red Rocket. A slice-of-life picture that candidly centres on an amoral character, its liberating attitude towards sex and bad behaviour makes it exhilarating beyond belief.
Following a 17-year stint in Los Angeles, washed-up porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his hometown in Texas to shelter with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss). Unable to find work due to his previous career, he spends his time moving weed for an old acquaintance and frequenting the local donut shop, where he meets 17-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son).
For all intents and purposes, Mikey is a scumbag. He uses his deceptive charm and relentless fun-loving energy to manipulate those around him: convincing the ex he abandoned to let him crash, befriending his star-struck neighbour to score free rides, hitting on a highschooler with the objective of finding a way back into the porn industry. It’s been too long since a mainstream flick dared to set its sights on a dude this pathetic, and thankfully, Baker doesn’t waste time spelling it out. He simply lets Mikey’s decisions unfold while we play judge, jury, and executioner – a telltale sign of a filmmaker who trusts the intelligence of his audience.
Baker again showcases an uncanny ability to make a community feel existent – the people, locations, and experiences in Red Rocket appear lived-in, an achievement aided by the gorgeously grainy 16-millimetre photography. His films are the screen equivalents of lo-fi Soundcloud mixtapes, those ones that go on to be rereleased by major labels and heralded as classics. This tangibility also flows through the writing (Baker and Chris Bergoch) and performances. Rex delights in playing a man this downtrodden and gives his all to the role. It’s safe to say I won’t soon forget the image of him running down the street butt naked to NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye.
While a touch bloated at 130 minutes, Red Rocket is a cinematic experience unlike any other you’re likely to have in 2022.