Red Rocket (2022) Review
NARCISSISM is the theme of Sean Baker's Red Rocket, an audacious indie film which takes a number of risky steps over the course of its 2-hour runtime; all of which pay off for director/writer Sean Baker as he produces a brutally-honest tragicomedy that shines as a relatable character and setting study despite the unconventional nature of its situations.
NSYNC's Bye Bye Bye immediately sets the tone for Red Rocket as washed-up adult film star, Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), returns to his hometown of Texas disgraced and unwanted. With nowhere else to turn, Mikey seeks shelter with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss) who only agree to this living arrangement following the promise of increased rent. However, just as his life seems to be falling back into place, things take a severe right turn after Mikey meets a young doughnut shop cashier named Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who through no fault of her own, causes the ex-porn star to find out that old habits die hard; as does love.
Sean Baker's brand of filmmaking, constantly revolving around one character and their respective settings, lends the film to a plethora of scenes that may not be relatable on the surface, but are all understandable, allowing the audience to easily follow the motivations of even the most cold-hearted personas. Whether the film is going for jocular humour or unnerving tension, Red Rocket seamlessly transitions between the two, never going overboard with the amount of laughs or melodrama to create the perfect blend needed for any seriocomedy.
The film is as funny as it is bleak, much of which can be attributed to the stellar performances given by all involved. Simon Rex undoubtedly stands above the rest in his role as a down-on-his-luck porn star searching for redemption; his ability to entrance the audience and make his vainglorious character likeable at the best of times and detestable at the worst is no easy feat and speaks to the sheer charisma needed to achieve such a demanding deed. His chances incredibly-slim due to the Academy's tunnel vision manner of selecting deserving nominees, but Simon Rex deserves a Best Actor Nomination for his performance at this year's Oscars; an outcome which more than likely won't happen but would be well-deserved if it came to be. Bree Elrod and Suzanna Son, the two women caught in Mikey's love triangle, also did wonderful jobs in their respective roles, representing themselves as the past and present loves for the ex-porn star in a star-making performance for Son in particular; a tremendous kick-start for the 26-year-old's young career.
One aspect I didn't expect myself to be praising from this porn star character study is the cinematography. Colour palates pop in a much-welcomed change of pace from more high-budget films, allowing the movie to not only be appealing with its ambience, but also tell a coherent, meaningful story through faint camera placements that better services the over-arching tale being told. A key example of this is during an early scene where Mikey, Lexi and Lil are lackadaisically watching television, showing little concern for major events transpiring on the news, but later in the film the exact same shot is used, only now Mikey is stone-faced staring at the screen while the others maintain their original positions, explicitly showcasing the progression shown throughout the film.
Sean Baker's dive into life after porn may be slightly too long, and gets a little convoluted in the third act, but Red Rocket stands as one of the biggest cinematic surprises in recent memory. Star-making performances Simon Rex and Suzanna Son, as well as uncomfortably-realistic scenes of humour and anguish create a film that feels all-too-real in the presentation of both its characters and setting, resulting in my favourite movie of 2022 to hit my screens so far.