Director Sean Baker continues his trend of small-town America based with his junior feature Red Rocket from A24. Simon Rex portrays Mike as a down on his luck washed up porn actor who returns to his small Texas hometown. Baker introduces us to Mike in a disheveled appearance and a bruised face. Mike then makes his way to his mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss) and estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod).
Having no fundamental skills, Mike finds himself selling dime bags. Throughout his journey, Mike also finds time to make friendships with a former neighbor Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), who is all grown up, and a teenage Donut Shop worker named Strawberry (Suzanna Son). From there is where the film begins to reveal its layers. Initially, Baker wants to go the dark comedy route, and for the first half of the film, that is the hook.
Simon Rex, a former VJ, rapper, and sometimes comedian, turns in a career-best performance as Mike. From the onset, it’s clear that Mike is a loser and will never reclaim his glory days. Rex fully embodies the role, never allowing the audience to sympathize with his character. The supporting cast provides solid work and gives life to the material, with Bree Elrod and Suzanna Son standing out. When the inappropriate relationship between Mike and Strawberry starts to take shape, Baker pushes the envelope as far as he can, so audiences should prepare themselves.
I also want to point out Drew Daniels cinematography which gives the film a bleak look that correlates to small-town life. And while the film is a bit overlong, Baker’s direction and pacing kept me invested. Baker’s script touches on many allegories of a small town and smartly uses the N’Sync song “Bye Bye Bye” to get his message across. One would think the film takes place in the year 2000, but Red Rocket is set in 2016 amid the Presidential election.
Perhaps one of the messages is to say bye to the narrative the media feeds you. Concurrently Mike’s relationships with Strawberry and Lonnie are bye to the innocence of the youth. Or perhaps with Mike’s entire arc, Baker wants us to see that losers like Mike can never say bye to the bad behavior that controls their life.
Red Rocket is sure to evoke conversation with some plot plots, which is always the sign of a good film. With an award-worthy performance by Simon Rex, I recommend checking the film out if you are a fan of the director.
Final Grade: B+
Red Rocket opens in limited released today