'Red Rocket' Paints a Raw Portrait of Small-Town America Directed by Sean Baker

Starring Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss
'Red Rocket' Paints a Raw Portrait of Small-Town America Directed by Sean Baker
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Director Sean Baker continues his exploration of underrepresented groups and non-traditional circumstances in Red Rocket, which follows adult film star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex). Red Rocket is an entertaining and interesting character study of a terrible — but immensely charming — man that paints a raw, visceral portrait of small-town America.

We first meet Mikey arriving in Texas City penniless and pleading with his estranged wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), to let him live in her home, which she shares with her mother, Lil (Brenda Deiss). Lexi and Lil reluctantly agree on the condition that Mikey pays rent and helps out around the house.

Mikey finds that his 17 years spent in L.A. as an adult film star have created a massive obstacle for him to find legitimate work. As a result, he turns to selling weed, finding construction workers who hang out at a local donut spot to be prime customers. The Donut Hole also has a young, pretty cashier nicknamed Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who catches Mikey's eye. Him and Strawberry, though three weeks shy of her 18th birthday, soon begin a sexual relationship. Mikey believes Strawberry is his ticket back into the porn industry, and works at convincing her to forget finishing school and go back to L.A. with him.

There's no mistaking that Mikey is a piece of trash. Even if you put aside the statutory rape and grooming, Baker has created a reprehensible character who displays incredibly abhorrent behaviour that will leave audiences gasping. And to his credit, Rex somehow makes this complete dirtbag charismatic and likeable.

This is Rex's biggest role to date, and he knocks it out of the park. He gives Mikey a boyish allure and humour that draws viewers in, but he doesn't compromise on the appalling decisions Mikey makes, leaving no room for sympathy.

Not to be outdone, in her debut role, Son's turn as Strawberry is magic. Her mix of innocence and confidence is perfect for Strawberry's lack of experience and up-for-anything attitude. Where Rex doesn't give space for audiences to sympathize with Mikey, Son doesn't allow room for victimization.

Baker walks a razor-thin tightrope with Red Rocket's subject matter. Ironically, his lack of judgment for the characters and their decisions is what makes the film's complexities shine. Mikey is a very enjoyable character up until a point, and when the shoe drops, audiences are left with the unsettled feeling that they were not only entertained by Mikey, they kind of liked him, too. Baker confronts audiences with why they were taken by a character like Mikey and in doing so, sheds light on how people like Mikey get away with what they do.

Red Rocket gets repetitive in its narrative, with the same points being stressed numerous times, but the film remains interesting and engaging. In addition to being beautifully shot, Red Rocket is incredibly funny and includes an all-time needle drop that invites nostalgia for simpler times. As award season rolls around, at a minimum, Rex should be in the conversation — unless the subject matter scares voters away. (Mongrel Media)