Red Rocket: Darkly Comedic Character Study of a Charismatic Grifter Living Life on the Bottom — Original Cin – Original Cin

By Karen Gordon
B-plus
Enlivened by a break-out performance by Simon Rex, Red Rocket is a dark comedy about a charismatic. mostly dislikable guy, who is within spitting distance of hitting bottom. 
It’s the work of writer/director Sean Baker, who’s visited the near-bottom of social strata before with the wonderful The Florida Projectand who delivers here a memorable character study of a die-hard dreamer who has nowhere to go but up.
Rex plays Mikey Saber, a fast talking porn actor and hustler. He arrives back in his home town of Texas City, Texas from Los Angeles. There, we gather, things have not only not gone well, they’ve been terrible. 
In Nowhere, Texas, Suzanna Son and Simon Rex dream of a better life in the sex film industry.
He has just over twenty dollars and not much more than the clothes on his back.  He heads straight to his estranged wife, Lexi, (Bree Elrod) who lives with her mother Lil, (Brenda Deiss). Mikey is hoping they’ll let him move in while he gets back on his feet.
They are not happy to see him. 
But, needing rent money, they let him in, though that cash won’t come easy.  He can’t get social support. And his work skills don’t qualify him for available jobs. So, Mikey resorts to doing what he can to bring in cash. And that brings him back into the family circle of a local drug dealer Leondria (Judy Hill), who isn’t happy to see him either.
Mikey is a big talker a positive thinker and a user, and has enough charisma to get his foot in the door.  But in a town with few opportunities, Mikey has his work cut out for him. He drives around in a borrowed bicycle with “Red Rocket” painted on the side, chatting people up, and hanging out with whomever is open to hanging out with him. 
With his constant bragging about his success in the adult film industry, sex is his currency. And he tries to leverage it to his advantage when he needs to. That includes his renewed plans to get back to L.A., and success that he believes is achievable.  
The adult film industry is what he knows, and when he sees teenager Strawberry (Suzanna Son), working at a local donut shop, he’s convinced that she’s his way back to the porn film industry in L.A.  
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Writer/director Baker is a veteran of independent American films, whose previous films have dealt with people living on the margins (this one is a follow-up to The Florida Project). If we’re tempted to look at these people as down and out, then that’s on us. Baker treats them with respect, inviting us into their world. 
He’s also famous for mixing actors with non-actors, people he finds in the local community, sometimes casting them after meeting them on the street.  Simon Rex and Bree Elrod are professional actors, and both are terrific. But the rest of the cast, including the others named here, are not pros, their fine performances notwithstanding.  
You’d be hard pressed to pick the amateurs from the professionals. And if they’re successfully playing their characters, does it really matter? I don’t think so. But knowing that the cast is mostly local people pulled into the film adds to the enjoyment.
Baker set the film in the summer of 2016, in the run up to the election that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. There was a lot of talk at that point about an entire group of Americans who had fallen between the cracks, and Mikey and his home-town friends and acquaintances seem to be symptomatic of people for whom the American Dream is not even a factor anymore. Lexi and Lil, spend most of their time on the couch, smoking, watching television and sometimes smoking crack. 
And maybe that’s why Mikey with his big talk, big dreams and constant optimism is tolerable, for a while anyway.
Baker has pitched this as a dark comedy. And thanks to the relentless energy of Simon Rex, the film feels like a comedy. Rex who is down to almost nothing, is fighting for his life, but he’s also a user and a manipulator. 
Is Mikey a narcissist?  A grifter? He is perhaps all the bad things you could call a guy like this. But in Rex’s hands, Mikey is fascinating to watch. At the same time, we’re aware of just how desperate he is. Rex, gives us both at once, making him perhaps a difficult character to like, but one who isn’t easy to forget.
Red Rocket. Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son. Opens in Toronto (Scotiabank), Vancouver and Montreal, December 17, and expands across Canada starting January 7.
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By Karen GordonB-plusEnlivened by a break-out performance by Simon Rex, Red Rocket is a dark comedy about a charismatic. mostly dislikable guy, who is within spitting distance of hitting bottom. It’s the work of writer/director Sean Baker, who’s visited the near-bottom of social strata before with the wonderful The Florida Project, and who delivers here a memorable character…

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