Sean Baker returns with another tale from the fringes. In Red Rocket, his focus is a washed-up porn actor who's looking to get back on his feet
With the iPhone-shot Tangerine and the pastel poverty drama The Florida Project, Sean Baker has proven a knack for getting dynamic performances out of non-professional and inexperienced actors. Red Rocket centres on porn star Mikey (real life former adult entertainer and Scary Movie franchise actor Simon Rex), who's returning to his impoverished Texan small town to try rebuild his life, and the feverish drama cements Baker’s talent for spinning madness-fuelled stories that make you laugh while leaving a sick aftertaste.
Baker and Simon’s collaboration gives us the strongest lead performance in the director’s filmography. Mikey is manipulative, pathetic, and completely indefensible. His constant lying and sickly charisma make you anxious to let him ever leave your sight. The performance alone isn’t what makes Red Rocket engaging; the snappy editing has perfect comic rhythm and timing, making transitions punchlines as it effortlessly bounces to the next scene.
As Mikey explores an alarming relationship with a 17-year-old, Strawberry (Suzanna Son), Baker tests the audience’s stomach for his protagonist’s vile behaviour. Mikey’s exploitation of an underage girl is extremely uncomfortable, but as we descend into his psychology, Baker makes his salient point: having a career in porn has broken Mikey’s brain, irrevocably damaging the way he sees people and ruining his ability to build relationships where he doesn’t benefit in some way. Red Rocket, while feeling messy at points (perhaps intentionally), is a chaotically-spun yarn about people living on the fringes of acceptable society, one that’s regularly unpleasant, but always compelling.
Red Rocket had its UK premiere at London Film Festival