Red Rocket (2021) – Movie Review | Sean Baker | Simon Rex | Most Magnetic Character of the Year

A movie that opens up with NSYNC’s 
“Bye Bye Bye” can’t go too wrong.
Servus Freunde, my name is Jimmy Cage and RED ROCKET is the newest 
film by indie darling Sean Baker. For me it was my  
third movie of his, after the beautiful, heartfelt 
and very fresh and authentic last ones, TANGERINE  
and THE FLORIDA PROJECT. Baker has an unmistakable 
style, that starts with his unconventional stories  
and characters, pretty much always people who live 
on the outskirts of society, and continues with  
his simultaneously tender and crass portrayals. He 
has a very empathic eye for his flawed characters  
and his movies have this wonderful balance of 
humor and drama. They feel real, down to earth,  
give you this unglamourous picture of America 
and though they have very dark elements in them,  
they are still somehow so delightful to watch. 
And RED ROCKET certainly is as well. So far it  
has only been shown at film festivals and it will 
be released in the United States in December and  
hopefully elsewhere soon after. I had the chance 
to watch it at this year’s Vienna International  
Film Festival, where it easily marked one of my 
absolute highlights. RED ROCKET tells the story of  
Mikey Saber,

a washed-up, middle-age former porn 
star, who returns to his small Texas hometown.  
For the next a little bit over two hours 
we won’t part his side for even one scene.  
Sean Baker and lead actor Simon Rex have created 
a character that’s simply magnetic. A character  
who’s completely self-absorbed, utterly full of 
himself, a total narcissist and opportunist, who  
doesn’t care for anyone but himself and who will 
use everyone around him to his benefit. And yet…  
we somehow totally love him. His arrogance, his 
joy, his bullshitting, his schemes – all of it is  
so out in the open, that it almost appears to be 
quite harmless. When he is telling his estranged  
wife Lexi and his mother-in-law Lil, that he only 
needs a place to stay for a few days, it’s all so  
transparent and when he’s later explaining that 
he’s only riding a far-too-small women’s bike,  
because his Camero is still in Hollywood, it’s 
obvious that he can’t even fool a 17-year-old  
girl. Yet the people around him and we as the 
audience, still kind of fall for him anyhow.  
For some strange reason we are kind of rooting for 
him and at the same time we of course know that we  
definitely shouldn’t. But he’s our protagonist and 
a protagonist doesn’t need to be good or morally  
right. But Mikey has such a contagious drive, so 
much sleazy charm. He’s a hustler. He’s a loser.  
But there’s also something magical and completely 
unapologetic about him and even more than in his  
last films, Sean Baker has brought a lot of humor 
to this one. Mikey is such a comedic figure and  
there’s something funny about every fiber of his 
being. About the way he talks, which is mostly  
bragging, the way he moves his face and body. 
It’s a character you can’t take your eyes off.  
He’s a joke and yet you can also kind of 
admire his determination and survival instinct.  
Even if he really doesn’t care if he’s hurting 
other people. But Sean Baker succeeds in still  
keeping some humanity alive and the way the movie 
makes us feel all these contradicting feelings  
makes this such an absorbing journey. The real 
story or crucial ignition point in the story  
kicks in when Mikey is laying his eyes on the only 
17-year-old donut shop employee Strawberry and you  
wonder if he’s maybe really feeling something 
for her, I mean besides the obvious lust,  
or if he only sees her as his chance 
to score again in the porn industry.  
I mean, he is a narcissist and probably not even 
capable of truly caring for someone else. A man in  
his late forties and a 17-year-old is certainly 
troubling and the movie keeps challenging our  
perception of Mikey. But it also does a good 
amount of portraying Strawberry as this wild,  
nymphomaniac teenager, who herself is taking 
what she likes. Now that doesn’t excuse the  
grooming and manipulation by a far-older man, 
but she has agency as well and it helps to  
preserve the film’s upbeat, almost satirical 
tone. Now I should probably mention again,  
that it’s not just the way the character of Mikey 
is written and how Baker leads him through this  
story, but a huge part of the film’s magnetic 
energy comes down to lead actor Simon Rex  
being absolutely sensational in the role. Rex 
had a rather peculiar career so far as an actor,  
rapper, comedian, MTV VJ and also as a performer 
in solo masturbation scenes for some porn films.  
So, he’s certainly able to bring a lot of his 
own background to the role and he’s completely  
committed to the character of Mikey and it really 
shows. But it’s not just Simon Rex who is amazing.  
Sean Baker is known for his talent to find 
these completely unknown, fascinating and very  
natural faces for his films. Non-professional 
actors, who give his worlds something very real  
and grounded. Be it Suzanna Son as Strawberry, 
Brenda Deiss as the mother-in-law Lil,  
Ethan Darbone as the neighbor Lonnie or Brittney 
Rodriguez as the hilarious drug-dealer June.  
Baker populates his worlds with these fresh and 
interesting faces. Faces that at the same time  
look like they have led a difficult and sometimes 
tragic life. And again, he is able to find humor  
and drama alike. There’s something very funny 
about this rural southern setting but it doesn’t  
feel as if he’s exposing these people and there’s 
always this passionate, emphatic touch to it.  
The cinematography with its grainy 16mm film 
look, especially in the many, sometimes extreme  
close-ups and the fast pace really suck you 
into it and makes this a very pleasant and nice  
experience, even with this crass subject matter 
of a former porn star who’s grooming a teenager.  
Baker also does without music and the dialogue 
and ambient sounds are enough to transport you  
to this place. But then he also does use music at 
a few very distinct moments, which brings me back  
to the opening of this review. NSYNC’s “Bye 
Bye Bye” is kind of the anthem of this movie  
and it only adds to the film’s unique appeal and 
nature. If there’s something to criticize, I would  
say that the movie could’ve maybe been a little 
bit shorter and some things come a little bit too  
easy for our protagonist, but then again, maybe 
that’s also kind of the charm and point and some  
people just do fall on their feet again and again, 
even in a state of losing. So in German I’d say:  
I give RED ROCKET 8 out of 10. It’s 
more like 8.2 but I don’t do that.
Alright, that’s it. Like always, comment below 
and let me know what you think about RED ROCKET.  
Are you familiar with Sean Baker? If so, what’s 
your favorite one of his films? And also: What is  
your favorite boy band song? You can hit me up, 
on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd – and also  
on Patreon – simply at The Jimmy Cage. And if you 
enjoyed this episode, please give me a thumbs up,  
share, subscribe – whatever you like. And make 
sure you hit that bell, for all I have to tell!

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