This review contains spoilers

Sean Baker’s newest film “Red Rocket” is a solid addition to his catalog of endearing, embodied tributes to the lives of marginalized groups in America. Released for limited theatrical release on Dec. 10, “Red Rocket” tells the story of Mikey, a charming, egoistic former porn star, as he wedges his way back into the home of his estranged wife and proceeds to wreak havoc in such a way that only a cisgender, heterosexual white man who has never been told “no” in his life could ever accomplish.

“Red Rocket” follows Mikey (Simon Rex) as he sometimes charms and sometimes weasels his way back into his “old life” in Texas, before he moved to California some years ago. His potential reconciliation with his wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and return to normalcy is stifled, however, when he meets Strawberry (Suzanna Son), a bubbly 17-year-old who he attempts to seduce (gross!).



This film evokes the community that Mikey attempts to work into in a way that feels nuanced and unpatronizing. Lexi is sympathetic while still having real flaws, and the film doesn’t trap her into a perfect-victim narrative where she must silently submit to Mikey’s, at best, sleazy and, at worst, abusive behavior.

That being said, Mikey is a reprehensible human being. The film actively acknowledges it; everyone around him is unimpressed by his braggadocious manner and the ways in which he has coasted off women for personal gain in and out of his career.

As the movie explores his filth, his behavior spirals to be progressively more horrendous as the film goes on. Though I found myself cringing through large portions of the movie, the funny screenplay and grounded, realistic performances kept me from storming out in rage.

A big talking point of this movie is the depiction of Mikey’s grooming of 17-year-old Strawberry. I think much of this discussion is also influenced by the screenplay’s refusal to flatten the experiences of victims. Though Strawberry is shown as a “willing” party in the relationship, and the sex scenes were admittedly a bit much at times, that didn’t take away from her story or the stark fact that a grown man was taking advantage of a young girl’s sexual naivete.

The tail-end of the movie was a weak point for me. In an effort to solidify Mikey as the worst guy — for the record, I didn’t need any more convincing by that point — the plot accelerates at a ridiculous pace and leaves much to be desired in terms of development.

I think I understand that screenwriters Baker and Chris Bergoch were trying to disrupt what was a very rhythmic and steady storyline, but the ending simply did not work for me. The rapid acceleration of the plot was even more annoying when considering that the last five minutes of the movie were basically just long-takes of Mikey walking.

Overall, what made this movie stand out for me was Baker’s distinctive ability to portray those on the margins with tremendous empathy. Though he has all the makings of a prototypical white-collar New York University film dude who intrudes on the lives of people they deem as lesser in the name of “cinema verité,” Baker doesn’t seem to fall victim to that trap. Even through Mikey’s warped mirror, the audience can still glance at the reflection of a small community finding beauty and compassion through turmoil.

Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle