“Life is sweet,” Mikey Saber, the former porn star and charismatic scumbag main character says in director Sean Baker’s sensational latest film, Red Rocket.
And you could say that about the movie, too.
A writer/director since 2000, Baker achieved notoriety for his experimental 2015 film Tangerine, which was shot exclusively on an iPhone 5.
Red Rocket follows washed-up porn star and manipulative degenerate Mikey Saber, a 40-something human wrecking ball of sorts, who has just fled Los Angeles under dubious circumstances, to return penniless to his hometown Texas City, TX after a 17-year absence.
To say Mikey is disliked in his hometown is a bit of an understatement. For starters, he first has to contend with his estranged wife Lexi, whom he left destitute years ago, and her bitter elderly mother, Lil.But one of Mikey’s super powers, aside from his unflinching dogged amorality, is his silver tongue. Eventually, he’s able to beg his way into staying on the couch, under the conditions that he get a job and help out with the household chores.
Mikey next runs afoul of a few moralistic diner and General Store owners, who aren’t too keen on hiring an ex-porn actor, even for petty pay. He’s forced to return to his roots as a small-time pot dealer for the local crime boss, Leondria, and her permantly scowling daughter, June.
Reduced to riding around a dead end town on a cheap bicycle peddling dope to skaters and construction workers might be enough to cause any man to despair. But not Mikey Saber, who appears filled with unshakable, if inexplicable confidence, of eventually getting his mojo back.
It’s after treating his wife and mother-in-law to a donut shop to celebrate his newfound pot gains that the story really begins — when Mikey first sets eyes on 17-year old cashier Strawberry. Not only does he become completely (and quite disgustingly) smitten with the barely legal red-headed teen, he sees a potential chance to use her to get back into the porn industry.
Yeah, this guy’s a real dirtbag, if you hadn’t picked up on that already.
Despite its racy and raunchy themes, Red Rocket is one of the most thoroughly entertaining films I’ve seen in a long while. Mikey Saber, flawed as all get out, is an unforgettable character. A sexual tornado, inflicting one disaster after another on anyone within shouting distance with his impulsive and reckless behavior.
I first heard about Red Rocket from a Mike and Jay video awhile back, but didn’t get around to watching it until recently. It initially premiered in December of last year with little attention or theatrical release. But it’s been Simon Rex’s performance as Mikey that has been its primary calling card. He’s won, or been nominated for, a slew of awards for his role.
Rex’s character Mikey is somewhat of a meta performance for the actor, as he performed briefly in a few solo porn films at the start of his career. Though initially stung by the scandalous reveal of his explicit films during his rise in the early 2000s, now at age 47, Rex saw the role as suitcase pimp and lascivious manipulator as an opportunity. He says in The Daily Beast:
“I was at a point where I just had nothing to lose, like at my age and with my career,” he says. “I don’t mean to say ‘I don’t care,’ but I truly was just like, ‘Fuck it. I’ve got nothing to lose.’ I could just go for it and not worry.”
Meanwhile, Baker has established himself as a very unconventional and unique indy director. Just as The Florida Project and Tangerine, two films I definitely want to check out, he doesn’t shy away from showing the raw and risqué side of Americana
But aside from Baker’s technical sophistication and Rex’s superb portrayal, Red Rocket is just a blast. Mikey Saber ranks up there with the types of unforgettable characters that make movies worth watching. Characters like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, or Howard Ratner of Uncut Gems. The kind of seemingly otherwordly characters that remain grounded enough to make you think they could actually be real people. Everyone knows a Mikey Saber-type, either from high school, or maybe more recently in life. You know, the charming bastard who lives life by the skin of his teeth, yet still is somehow a panty-dropper. T-rash with a capital “T.” Yeah, that guy.
Check out Red Rocket as soon as you can. It’s a real trip.