Opening 14 Apr 2022
Red Rocket, the latest film from director Sean Baker (Tangerine , The Florida Project ), is yet another indie gem that celebrates underprivileged American communities. Using a combination of professional and nonprofessional actors, the story centers around a midlife porn star Mikey Saber (former MTV VJ Simon Rex) who begrudgingly leaves Los Angeles and returns to his Texas City, Texas roots. With twenty-two dollars in his pocket, he promptly drops in on his estranged wife and former onscreen porn partner (Bree Elrod) and her mother (Brenda Deiss), asking if he can temporarily stay with them while he finds a new job. He looks for work locally, but thanks to his seventeen-year gap on his résumé, employers are reluctant to hire him.
As a last resort, Mikey reconnects with Leondria (Judy Hill), the madam of the local marijuana trade and becomes a small-time dealer himself. He works every angle he can, not just so he can leave, but so he can return to Los Angeles, where he feels his adult talents are still needed. At a nearby doughnut shop, he encounters the precocious high school student Raylee (Suzanna Son), who aptly calls herself Strawberry, given her red hair and freckles. At first, it’s just sex that Mikey is after, but he ultimately decides to lure Strawberry to Los Angeles to act in porn, with him as her manager/pimp. Their relationship is built on deception, which threatens to come crashing down and get him kicked out of town before he can take her with him.
While on the page there is nothing inherently likable about Mikey’s character, Rex steals the show with his puppy dog eyes and affable nature. Funny and abrasive, Red Rocket leaves the audience to ponder whether they’re watching a train wreck of a person stumble through life or if they’re rooting for Mikey, despite his profound flaws. (Erin Huebscher)