Red Rocket Review (2021)
Many of the great works in modern film history surround the comedown. When a charismatic character feels the repercussions of a life filled with poor decision-making. Henry Hill had to live a life in witness protection after ratting on the mob, Mark Zuckerberg lost many of his friends and chose a life of greed and isolation, and, hell, Godfather II is all about the fall of Michael Corleone.
Sean Baker isn’t interested in the fall from grace. He’s more interested in the rebound – the (potential) climb back up to stardom. That’s the case in Red Rocket, where Mikey Saber attempts a return to the adult film industry after being turned down in L.A. and being forced to move back with his estranged wife in Texas City, Texas. All’s strenuous as he tries to reinsert himself into her life, but it gets even more challenging when he meets a very young Strawberry, someone he thinks could also make it into the industry he cares so much about climbing the mountain of again.
It’s a concept that’s starting to become more popular in more mainstream filmmaking. The fact that Licorice Pizza is catching as much heat as it is while Red Rocket is simultaneously in theaters is a little bonkers. And just earlier this month, I finally got to view Zola and boy does that have some content in it as well. Independent directors are getting more daring in their concepts and ideas, and Sean Baker has perhaps released his boldest effort yet.
Red Rocket is certainly going to turn some people away pretty early on. It has the crassness of Sean Baker’s previous works as it attempts to boil up and unearth small-town U.S.A. The political tones aren’t referenced by the characters themselves, but Baker manages to clearly set this film within the country’s election turmoil in 2016. It’s something I admire about Sean Baker. His films are prominently set in Southern, dryer parts of the country, but they aren’t westerns. They’re colorful and full of life, whether it be the bright set design in The Florida Project, or the burnt-orange sunsets that are absolutely gorgeous in this film. It’s a stylistic choice that very few directors pull off as well as he does.
Simon Rex gives a performance for the ages as Mikey Saber. He’s trying to be the glue that keeps his life together as everything is falling apart around him. It’s a sporadic role, but it fits with the sporadic nature of the film. Nothing is buttoned up about the life he lives. He’s jobless, pretty much wifeless, and taking quite a liking to someone barely legal for the adult industry. It’s a performance that should be recognized by the Academy, but knowing the Academy, it probably won’t be.
The problems for viewers will lie in the subject matter. Some may walk out of the theater in ten minutes and some may be shocked, but floored leaving the theater. I fell mostly into the latter. It was entertaining, hilarious, and brilliantly well done by a director that continues to make fresh and innovative art.