Sean Baker is rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors. He makes blazingly original pictures about those living on the edge of society that make us care, make us laugh and make us think.
In 2015 He made Tangerine, about the trials and tribulations of a Hollywood hooker at Christmastime searching for the pimp who broke her heart. Shot entirely on an iPhone 5. 2017’s The Florida Project chronicled the summer adventures of a mischievous six-year-old living with her undisciplined but caring mother in a cheapo motel in the shadow of Disney World.
So now strap in for 2021’s Red Rocket, Baker’s most antic yet, in which a washed-up porn star stage-named “Mikey Saber” (Simon Rex) returns to his tiny Texas hometown despite no one really wanting him to.
Armed with a colossal ego, a monstrously laughable self-image, a twisted sense of self-worth, and a Viagra-fueled libido, Mikey leaves behind social and economic destruction wherever he goes. He is apparently incapable of telling the truth (the film is slyly set against a backdrop of the 2016 presidential election campaigning).
This is an amoral sleazebag who cultivates a blathering cluelessness to get what he wants. He first finagles his way into crashing at the decrepit home of his ex-wife and former film partner (now casually turning tricks), then he gets a “job” selling pot and starts to woo a little piece of donut-shop jailbait (Suzanna Son, excellent).
So, it’s a character study, and I suppose a few other actors could pull off this manic, motor-mouth persona, but I’m not sure anyone could do it with the pure energy and frightening honesty that Simon Rex brings. It is truly a virtuoso, magnetic performance. You can see through the guy, but he’s damn entertaining!
Okay, it’s a tad long at over two hours, but the time is filled with so much joy and humor, mostly embarrassing, that I won’t quibble. (130 min)