The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - RED ROCKET | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - RED ROCKET

red rocket review
A male pornstar hits hard times and moves back in with his ex-wife and mother-in-law.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sean Baker

Starring: Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez

red rocket poster

The idea of a troubled adult returning to their hometown has fuelled American indie cinema for several decades at this point. Such movies usually feature a protagonist who finds what they've spent their adult life searching for in the last place they would have thought to look – the Podunk town they fled many years ago. If said protagonist is male, he'll no doubt find himself in an unlikely relationship with some manic pixie dream girl who teaches him life lessons and gets him back on track.

With his wildly entertaining drama Red Rocket, writer/director Sean Baker sticks a banana in the exhaust pipe of this Sundance cliché. Yes, his movie features a troubled man returning to his hometown and attracting a pretty young woman, but Baker's film is brutally honest about the reality of how such a scenario is most likely to play out.

red rocket review

For a start, his protagonist, Mikey (Simon Rex), has no redeeming features and is unlikely to learn any life lessons. He arrives in his old stomping ground of small town Texas with his tail between his legs. And it's quite a tail. Mikey has spent the past 17 years working as a male pornstar in Los Angeles but has returned with a bruised body after getting into some ambiguous trouble. Despite their initial protestations, Mikey uses his seedy charm to inveigle his way back into the home of his ex-wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss).

Lexi and Lil have correctly pegged Mikey as a wrong 'un, but decide to give him another chance. When Mikey starts producing enough cash to pay the rent, they happily look the other way and don’t question where he got the money (he got it from selling weed for a local dealer). Lexi even allows Mikey back into her bed and Lil thanks him for bringing her daughter some happiness again.

red rocket review

Meanwhile, Mikey is hitting on the underage Raylee (Suzanna Son), who works at the local donut shop, and begins committing statutory rape on a regular basis. His interest in Raylee, who likes to call herself Strawberry, is purely professional however, as he's grooming her for porn stardom, his ticket back into the business.

Using a largely unknown cast, many of whom he cold-approached in the street, Baker creates a world that feels identifiably American in a way so few American movies tend to. With his movie star looks, Mikey stands out from the denizens of his hometown, who all look like people who have lived rough lives. Somewhat ironically, Baker frames these people in Norman Rockwell-esque tableaus that find a stark beauty in the donut shops and strip clubs that dot this particular landscape. When they become a "couple," Mikey and Raylee resemble Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Terrence Malick's Badlands, two people whose fresh looks stand out against a world that's gone stale on the shelf.

red rocket review

Like the films of the Safdie brothers, Red Rocket has a manic energy matched by a sociopathic protagonist that makes for a highly captivating but somewhat draining viewing experience. Mikey sweeps through this world like a tornado, leaving chaos and devastation in his trail, but as played by Rex, he possesses an undeniable charm that makes it easy to understand why people are willing to give him a chance. The movie runs for 130 minutes but feels like it's no more than half that length. The narrative barely gives us pause for breath and a scene set on a rollercoaster plays like a distillation of the entire narrative.

Many viewers will likely have first discovered Baker through his 2015 film Tangerine. That movie had a similar breakneck pace as it followed a pair of trans prostitutes across a day in their messy lives in Los Angeles. Like Mikey, those protagonists' lives were a trainwreck, but in their case they were passengers on a train driven by a society that didn't accept them. In Mikey we get a protagonist who is consistently given opportunities. He's at the controls of the train and will ultimately be responsible for its derailment. The question is how many casualties he'll cause along the way.

Red Rocket is on Netflix UK/ROI now.