Red Rocket ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back. Out this Friday in selected cinemas.
Producer, writer and director Sean Baker first appeared on my radar with his 2015 Tangerine, in which he pretty much shattered all conventions not only by casting two transgender women as the leads but also by filming it all on an iPhone. Then two years later came The Florida Project, another absolute gem (and with a wonderful performance by Willem Dafoe), which I would highly recommend to anyone.
After a hiatus of four years (courtesy of Covid, of course) comes Red Rocket, a film which is really hard to pigeon hole. On the surface a comedy, but as always with Baker’s films, there’s a lot more underneath.
Baker has a unique eye for portraying the underclass and the outcast, those people living on the edge of American societies who are falling on hard times. He does so in a very humanistic, unjudgmental and sympathetic way.
Mikey, in Red Rocket, is an aging porn star, somebody who, on paper, we would be quick to judge: repugnant, opportunistic, icky… and seemingly unredeemable. And yet mainly thanks to a magnificent performance by Simon Rex, he comes across as a multi-layered character, at times shameless narcissist and a disgusting opportunist, but often sweet, incredibly charming and hilarious, even if delusional. A crazy genius who challenges any preconceptions one may have.
Fittingly enough, Rex has appeared in some porn films as well at the beginning of his career, making his character in this film even more interesting and poignant.
This is really one of the best performances of last year in my view in a film filled with a great supporting cast of non-professionals.
A lesser filmmaker would easily make fun of Mikey, but Baker leaves him, and us, the audience, to grapple with his ambiguities.
Filmed on grainy and yet colourful 16mm, he finds beauty where it’s difficult to find it, across a dilapidated American landscape, in places which I would never want to visit, as the Trump-Clinton election plays on TV screens in the background.
This is a beautiful, quiet, nuanced, fascinating and mature film. It might not be always likeable, but it’s constantly watchable and engrossing.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
Red Rocket is out this Friday in selected cinemas.
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See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
See also: Theatre review – Running with Lions at the Lyric, Hammersmith
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