A washed-up adult movie star named Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) returns to his hometown along the Gulf Coast of Texas to live with his ex-wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), and mother, Lil (Brenda Deiss). While trying to get back into the industry, he uses the people in his life as tools to regain the fame and success he lost. This is red rocketthe latest film from auteur director, Sean Baker.
Baker never stands on high moral ground. While his characters, like Mikey Saber in red rockettake heinous measures to get what they want, they are justified by the character’s own psychology as well as the dismal circumstances in which they find themselves. So while audiences may not view their leads as morally virtuous, you can see through their perspectives as why they take the actions they do.
With Sean Baker, you get no sensationalism, no unnecessary violence, no CGI, and no star-studded casting. What you get is a portrayal of American life in the 21st century, featuring understated settings and characters in the underbelly of the states.
A huge “Trump 2020” sign, tireless trucks sitting on the lawn with mattresses in the back, cracked and collapsed houses filled with clutter and overfilled ashtrays, and pump jacks roaring in the distance. This is Texas City, a small town along the Gulf Coast of Texas. To someone unfamiliar with scenery as such, it might seem backward or grotesque, and if you’re driving in this town, you might tend to double-lock your car lest people walk in. outside. Baker does not subscribe to this alarmist and superficial judgement. The central characters of Red Rocket are adult actors, drug dealers and unemployed people.
Baker values the three and portrays them as endearing people who actually care about each other in their community and do their best to make sure the other gets through it. Leondria, played by Judy Hill, is the town’s drug dealer. When Mikey returns to town and can’t find a job, he asks Leondria to give him some weed to process, just like he did for her in high school. Although it initially seems like she’s willing to help Mikey lose his chance, she only gives him a chance because she knows the money will pay the rent for her friend and Mikey’s stepmom, Lil. . When Mikey is about to leave town with the household money at the end of the film, Leondria kicks him out of town and gives the money to Lil and Lexi.
Members of this Texas City community look out for each other and resent those who come from outside and try to use their people for their benefit. While Mikey was one of them, he had since lost his accent and arrived in Texas City to simply use its people for his own gain. For a community long abandoned by politicians and the wealthy who create a large divide between classes, another opportunist is not a welcome addition.
Sean Baker’s actors deliver real performances, but it’s not because of their fame, but because of their authenticity in the setting he offers. Like with The Florida ProjectBaker used non-actors in red rocket. Brittney Rodriguez, who plays June, was cast by Baker while walking her dog, after she was recently fired by a factory in Texas City. In fact, Brittney was a frequent customer of the donut hole depicted in the film.
It was also Brenda Deiss’ first performance as Lil. Ethan Darbone was cast as Lonnie after meeting Baker at a restaurant where he was waiting. While Simon Rex was an actor, rapper, and MTV personality by training, he was in a way very similar to Mikey’s character, being a departure from his previous stardom. Rex was even an adult actor before his career took off. Baker’s unique casting methods give way to performances that seem more out of a documentary than a fictional film.
No need for change
One of the brilliant aspects of a Sean Baker film is its open endings. At the end of red rocket, Mikey lost all the money he had to elope with Strawberry to Los Angeles. A dejected Mikey walks along the highway to Strawberry’s house, where he sees her opening the door in a red bikini, dancing for his pleasure. Mikey doesn’t change, does he? Did Strawberry give him exactly what he wanted, or is it a dehydration fantasy?
Throughout the film, as Mikey gets back on his feet, he hurts more and more people by having Lonnie arrested and betraying the trust of his wife and stepmother. Mikey finally gets what he deserves by getting kicked out of town, but does that change him? No matter if Strawberry opens that door, his journey on foot and his possible hallucinations show that he still holds hope for his old ways, however fleeting they may be.
It’s a similar ending to The Florida Project, where Halley doesn’t seem to know how her actions on the final pages led to her daughter being arrested. Either way, Mikey and Halley see the negative as the world doing this to them rather than their own actions, causing them to repeat the same mistakes. There’s a realism to these endings, while at the same time it’s left open whether or not these characters will learn from their nefarious actions.
The struggle to achieve the American dream
red rocket takes place against the backdrop of the 2016 US presidential election, with many speeches by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump talking about presenting their visions of American prosperity in the Oval Office. The stark contrast between their language and Lexi and Lil’s living situation shows that this is a vision serving a select group of people, like the oil tankers that drain the Gulf Coast City. Leondria could be a successful drug dealer right now. However, if she continues to push for more, as these presidential hopefuls suggest, it would lead to these elite oilmen to put her behind bars and knock her out of the picture. Likewise, Lexi and Lil might have some money at the moment, but with their looming heroin addiction, that could soon be lost, forcing Lexi to return to Craigslist to make ends meet, which could lead to her death. or his arrest.
In short, this pursuit of the idealized American dream is something for a select few, while those on the fringe sit to the side, climbing to find there is no mountaintop but a steep drop. in the abyss. When it comes to awards season, the film community needs to mention Sean Baker a little more, because no one captures the essence of America better than Baker. His films feel like you get to see through the looking glass and witness a slice of life truer than anything else. For a man who makes feature films of fiction, there is not much fiction about the realities and the characters he creates.
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