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Red Rocket LFF Review

★★★

Directed by: Sean Baker

Written by: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch

Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son

Film Review by Robert Stayte

 


 

Sean Baker is one of many noteworthy indie directors to emerge in the 2010’s, being set apart from the mainstream by his utter devotion to realism in stories and casting, as well as a specific focus on people that fill positions like porn acting and prostitution. Films like Tangerine, Starlet and The Florida Project are excellent examples of his style, and Red Rocket continues in this trend to lesser yet still good effect.


Small town Texas sees the return of Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), former porn star and compulsive liar. He forces his way back into his wife Lexi’s house and seeks to gain employment, ultimately seeing the perfect opportunity for success in a relationship with a young girl nicknamed "Strawberry" (Suzanna Son).


Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on whether you enjoy watching Mikey, because to call him a scumbag would be an understatement. His attempts to gain personal power and success are so sleazy and manipulative that at a certain point you outright want him to fail. Whilst Baker’s prior protagonists were figures he clearly had empathy for, Mikey gets little. He’s thankfully not glamorised and also not shown to be any kind of cool/tough/sympathetic figure.


That being said, it’s hard to emotionally invest in such a terrible person, so dialing back his bad qualities might have made for a character that was easier to latch onto. But given the unsympathetic nature of the main character, the film is hard to invest in overall, especially as the ending blurs the line between satisfying and abruptly ambiguous. It’s a funny movie and thankfully not bleak or disturbing, but do not expect a typical comedy-drama.


Thankfully, the rest of the characters are engaging and are generally helped by fantastic acting from an unknown cast. The standouts are lead Simon Rex and Suzanna Son. Rex is an incredibly entertaining performer, adding a lot of (surface level) charisma to Mikey, not to mention actually nailing some dramatic scenes using pure facial acting. This is definitely a star making turn for him. Son matches him well and has an innocent quality yet also a maturity that manages to slightly offset the creepy relationship she shares with Mikey.


Sean Baker’s direction is strong. The visual look captures the grit of rural Texas with added grain yet smooth camerawork. The editing is excellent, as the transitions are snappy, and no scene outstays its welcome. The sound design is sometimes a flaw as dialogue can on occasion be both loud and inaudible, but that might be due to the yelling and overlapping more than the sound work.


Red Rocket is held back by a lack of investment, but it is still a good look at a side of America we rarely see, sporting an audience-challenging main character with strong enough presentation to be worthwhile.

 

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