Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrond, Suzanna Son, and Brenda Deiss.
Directed By: Sean Baker
Where I Watched It: Apple VOD
English Audio Description?: Yes
The Plot: Mikey (Rex) is a washed up porn star who moves back to his hometown, where he isn’t really welcomed. He takes up residence with an old flame, but his heart lies with a 17 year old that works at a donut shop. 17. You’ve been sufficiently warned.
What Works: I always like to start off with the positive. Holy shit, Simon Rex can actually act. There’s nothing in his career that would suggest that he could do this role, yet Sean Baker really went out on a limb, and regardless of how you feel about the film, or his character, there’s no doubting that Rex is on a completely different wavelength then the Scary Movie and other spoof movies that built his career. I always assumed he had no range, like Rob Schneider, but he does.
in many ways, Simon Rex is the best reason to watch Red Rocket. If you’re familiar with him at all, it’s just such a smack in your face, such a massive transformation, I’m literally shocked that Simon wasn’t nominated just for causing jaws to hit the floor, or Sean Baker for directing him to this performance, or simply just for taking a risk on him. It’s the most surprising performance of 2021, and deserves a special award of some kind.I’m basically saying that if I had to create a list of like the 25 worst actors I’d encountered, Rex would have made that list, but not after this. Wow. Just wow.
Also, even though I’m not in love with the movie, I always love how Sean Baker really isn’t afraid to just “go there” whether you want him to, or expect him to. Tangerine was a great film, and no one but Baker could have made that film. I think I can say the same about Red Rocket. No one but Baker could have made this, nor would they have wanted to.
The rest of the cast is all good, but virtually unknown, and have a hard time surpassing what Rex puts into it. However, there was a little moment where Strawberry (Son) was singing a really nice, stripped down version of a boy band song, and it was lovely, sweet, and a totally different moment in the midst of all this sludge. It reminded the audience that she might have talent elsewhere and just not know it.
It’s a challenging, difficult at times film, and it’s not as rewarding as Tangerine, but there are some major wins to be had here.
What Doesn’t Work: Strawberry is seventeen. No, I’m not looking up “age of consent in Texas”, because even if that answer validated the movie, it’s still creepy. It turns our protagonist into an antagonist, meaning there really isn’t someone to root for. Are we rooting for Mikey to bag the girl of his dreams, a seventeen year old girl? Are we rooting for him to regain footing in the porn industry by recruiting a seventeen year old to join him? It’s funny that one year of age can make all the difference in the world, but I would have actually felt different with this film, Mikey’s character, and his trajectory if Strawberry had just been 18 when they met. It’s just the idea that even though she’s almost 18, she’s not, and he spends the majority of the film obsessed with her, eventually having sex with her multiple times, and then trying to recruit her into porn.
It’s just a hard movie to sell, and that one year of difference makes all the difference. i appreciate Sean Baker swinging for the fences, and with the amount of frontal male nudity, sex scenes, sex talk, and a reveal after oral sex that I’m shocked made it into an R rated movie, but there is just something about this film I can’t get past.
And, by the way, this R rating, considering some of the content, for people who haven’t seen This Film Is Not Yet Rated, is a great example of what some films have been able to get away with, that other films aren’t, either because it’s LGBT related or a female being pleasured instead of a man.
But that’s not really affecting how I see the film, more just a comment on the industry.
The Blind Perspective: Maybe because he made such an impact on me when he did the narration for the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I immediately recognized this guy. He sounds like he’s great for action films or horror titles, and as horrifying as parts of this film may feel to you, it’s not that genre. So, his voice is just a bit too abrasive for the given material. loved it when he was paired with Texas Chainsaw, and he arguably complimented that (albeit awful) film. Here, it’s really intense for no reason.The narration written though is great, with you not left feeling like you’re missing a beat.
Final Thoughts: The journey of Mikey is one that not everyone will want to go on, nor should they. This is not a mass appeal film, nor does Sean Baker make mass appeal films. If Baker ever got attached to something big like a Marvel film, my heart would sink. He’s obviously meant for stuff like this, and while Simon Rex is incredible, and i applaud his direction here, there are elements of the film I just can’t get past. It keeps me at arms length from enjoying this film completely.
Final Grade: B-