A washed-up porn actor falls on hard times in Sean Baker’s new film, Red Rocket.
It is 2016. Mikey (Simon Rex) turns up unannounced (and broke) at the dilapidated Texas home of his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss). They want nothing to do with him. But he inveigles himself back into their lives and then sets about scamming and scheming by calling on others’ good graces. Among those with whom he reconnects is the naive, next door neighbour Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), who is into scamming himself. Lonnie tries to take advantage by lying about being in the military. Mikey also begins selling weed for local family drug supplier, Leondria (Judy Hill). She tells Mikey not to trade with a particular group of workers, but he ignores that because there’s more money to be made.
Mikey soon notices a young sales assistant known as Strawberry (Suzanna Son). Three weeks shy of 18, she enjoys being serenaded by him. Mikey sweet talks Strawberry and before too long they’re having vigorous sex. In reality, he wants to turn her into a big name in the porn industry, which will also get him back in the game. At the same time, he’s also gotten back into Lexi’s pants.
Red Rocket is quite the spectacle, a controversial work from Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch. The pair collaborated on Tangerine and The Florida Project. The script features shady characters, the foremost of which is the generally good-humoured hustler in Mikey. He’s a character who thinks more of himself than others do. While comedic, the movie has a decidedly dark edge. Baker and Bergoch allow the plot to play out fairly predictably, but then the story pivots. They throw a curve ball and the mood shifts. I certainly didn’t see it coming and it has impact, if only temporarily.
The director who uses many non-professional actors in the picture. Simon Rex is strong as the show pony. Suzanna Son is another standout, as the girl being led astray. She’s bubbly and mischievous. Benda Deiss and Bree Elrod play mother/daughter meth heads and they make quite the statement.
Bad language and nudity are part of the package, if you pardon the pun. This is clearly not a film for everyone, but I warmed to it. It’s certainly different to any other movie I’ve seen and I applaud its creativity and grittiness.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.