Simon Rex in Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket”: Movie Review

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The former Donut Time, a no-frills 24-hour restaurant at the Hollywood intersection of Santa Monica and Highland, was a key focal point for the low-end sex and drug trade operating in the area during Sean Baker’s Escape In 2015 Divinely Empathetic Transgender Girlfriend Movie Mandarin. An outlet that specializes in those same nutrition-less snacks, clogging America’s arteries and rotting its teeth, again plays a pivotal role in the director’s latest subclass exploration, Red rocket.

The Donut Hole in the industrial city of Texas City on the Gulf Coast serves as the hidden face of the malt house where Lana Turner was legendary discovered. In this case, it’s not about a glamorous movie star but a potential porn sensation in Raylee, a 17-year-old Lolita-like cashier (the incandescent newcomer Suzanna Son) known as ” Strawberry “for her red hair. But Strawberry’s improbable stepping stone to fame and wealth is entirely secondary to the opportunity it represents for exploitative scammer Mikey, himself an adult film actor who has now passed his expiration date. and seeking to move on to leadership.

Red rocket

The bottom line

America like an opportunistic whore.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Throw away: Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez
Director: Sean Baker
Scriptwriters: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch

Rated R, 2 hours 8 minutes

Played by Simon Rex in a full-tilt magnetic performance of wired physicality and hyper-caffeinated talkativeness, Mikey Saber, as he’s professionally known, is fundamentally a charismatic shower, user, and loser. It’s no coincidence that Baker and his usual co-writer Chris Bergoch put together Red rocket in the casually observed backdrop of the 2016 presidential primaries. While Mikey is funny and even endearing for much of the film with his blatant survival tactics and compulsive lies, he’s also a nasty embodiment of the Trumpian ethos of fool people with big talk and empty promises, milk them for whatever they can get, then move on without any accountability. It is partly self-delusion and partly calculated deception.

This makes Baker’s new film a harder creature to love, even though many of the same virtues of his recent hits are glorious – including shaping fully lived performances of a predominantly non-actor cast, and finding new ones. shabby poetry in an enveloping environment that ranges from sleepy to shabby. In the latter area, Baker collaborates for the first time to great advantage with Drew Daniels, the talented cinematographer who shot the films of Trey Edwards Shults, including the visually rhapsodic film. Waves.

Not since the first features of Baker Four letter words, Go out and Prince of broadway focus on a male protagonist, and that choice alone generates less heat towards the mess at the center of Red rocket. While the director and his co-writer don’t judge Mikey either, a bitterness creeps in and will likely make audiences less forgiving.

Baker’s films about women just have more heart. In Starlet, he riffed on a Harold and Maude-type of connection between a porn actress and a lonely widow in her 80s; Tangerinewas motivated by the disjointed solidarity of two transgender sex workers; and The Florida project captured the resilience and joy of a couple of 6-year-old girls living in the vulgar shadow of Walt Disney World, one of them subject to the whims of a shipwreck mother.

Mikey isn’t entirely lacking in vulnerability and certainly not in humor in Rex’s animated characterization. But it is a narcissistic work with no trace of redemption, apparently learning nothing from every failure, humiliation and success. When another character’s actions inadvertently cause disaster, Mikey goes on autopilot to extricate himself from the situation and make sure he stays faultless, a skill he seems to have used many times before.

Bruised by a beating he claims to have taken from two homeless, he returns to Texas City after a two-day bus trip with nothing but the filthy tank top and jeans he is wearing and $ 22 in his pocket. When he unexpectedly arrives at the dilapidated suburban home of his ex-wife and former porn co-star Lexi (the formidable Bree Elrod, the only other professional cast actor) and his mother Lil (Brenda Deiss, a hoot), they both greet him with an “Oh, my shit”. Mikey had apparently promised he would never set foot in Texas again, and they agreed.

Speaking in the doorway to take a shower, Mikey quickly takes root over the objections of the two jaded women, who are like meth versions of the Edies in Gray gardens. He promises to contribute to the rent and help out around the house, forgoing this latest offer, but making up for it with cash once he takes over the weed business for local supplier Leondria (Judy Hill). She is the mother of Mikey’s classmate Ernesto (Marlon Lambert) and June (Brittany Rodriguez), who has her number the minute she lays eyes on him.

Being without wheels and most of the time forced to get around town on a rickety bike (which Rex hilariously drives like a tall, lanky kid), Mikey also finds an unpaid driver in Lexi’s evil neighbor, Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), probably the only person in town who buys their self-promotion non-stop. Mikey debits his credits – 2,000 movies, 6 awards, 13 nominations – like an IMDB page. There’s a flashing joke built into the cast of Rex, whose emergence as a model, MTV VJ, film and TV actor, and rapper was preceded by a handful of solo masturbation videos for a company of gay porn from LA.

In one of the magnanimous gestures that aim to draw attention to himself, Mikey takes Lexi and Lil to the Donut Hole and encourages them to order whatever they want, over him. But it’s Strawberry that catches its eye rather than the cream-filled double glazing. As he returns to dating Lexi recreationally, which slightly softens his demeanor towards him, Mikey simultaneously launches a flirtatious assault on the cashier. He immediately sees her as “a redhead,” which will be a key selling point to his colleagues in the adult film industry. The raised eyebrows of Strawberry boss Ms Phan (producer Shih-Ching Tsou, who played a similar unmoved role in Mandarin) do nothing to discourage her.

Promising to help her prepare for the SAT, Mikey manipulates Strawberry with little resistance to throw her near-boyfriend Nash (Parker Bigham), who retaliates by letting his rogue parents (Brandy Kirl, Dustin “Hitman” Hart) go on the road. usurper in a tumultuous scene. He also cheats on her into believing that he lives in an upscale neighborhood in an upscale house he bought for his sick mother.

A trip to Galveston and a roller coaster ride against the island’s candy-colored Pleasure Pier takes their budding relationship to the next level. And all it takes is a phone video of them having sex for Mikey to plant the idea in Strawberry’s head that she’s the star. Rex maintains an ounce of ambiguity as to whether Mikey’s interest in her is anything but a mercenary, although that seems questionable.

At a little over two hours, Red rocket suffers mildly from verbose stretching, and just like The Florida project, he could have used a little tightening. But it’s a pleasure to put you in Baker’s capable hands as he walks through his cowardly story with his affectionate, slyly humorous character observations and his immersive sense of place. In Daniels’ always interesting panoramic frames, this latter aspect is just as vivid and distinctive as his shots of LA in Starlet and Mandarin and the Sunshine State in The Florida project. Shooting in 16mm with special anamorphic lenses, Daniels captures the warm saturated colors of summer sunsets, the environmental scourge of the oil refinery and the sun-dried expanses of drab suburbs.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for A24 in bringing this film to market will be the indisputable fact that it centers around a selfish dude looking to steer a high school student into the sex trade – a bold choice for the age #MeToo that many will no doubt consider counterintuitive. But Baker and Bergoch are cunning at forging allegiances among women.

Lil may seem moody, her brain burnt with disease and drugs, but she’s really looking out for her daughter and wants to keep her away from the Craigslist flesh market. A similar bond strengthens Leondria and June, neither of whom are fooled by anyone. When Mikey, a “homeless suitcase pimp” in Lexi’s words, thinks he can leave town without paying his dues, they unite to get him back on his feet. To quote the * NSYNC song heard several times in the film, “Bye Bye Bye”.


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