I have to admit that this movie took me by surprise in a pleasant way. I was not even planning to watch this because its promotional poster looked cheesy, it has no familiar names in its cast, and its plot about a washed-up porn star returning to his home in a small Texas town did not sound like something I would want to watch. But positive reviews and being a Palm d’Or nominee in the Cannes Film Festival made me think twice. Plus, thanks to the current dire lack of new major releases to pick.
Anyway there are many factors that makes Red Rocket such a compelling watch. First and foremost is its main character, Mikey Saber, a porn star that has passed his prime days. Simon Rex plays this basically reprehensible and multi-layered character so convincingly we just cannot keep our eyes off the screen. He is despicable and yet can ooze charm to win over the people around him. This is a breakout performance for sure. He is matched by an equally impressive supporting cast that makes everyone look and feel like real people. Suzanna Son who play a 17 year old cash register clerk at the local doughnut store by the name of Strawberry is particularly outstanding. Her character comes across as a sweet young thing but who is also savvy and not as sexually innocent as she looks. Suzanna pulls off this difficult role with ease and wins over not only Mikey Saber’s heart but also the audience’s. She also got a chance to show off her amazing singing talent with a raw and very original version of the NSYNC’s classic hit song “Bye, Bye, Bye”. The original version of the song was also used effectively several times throughout the movie including its opening scene. It was quite a genius move to select this song despite its age, because its lyrics somehow matched the storyline rather well.
Director Sean Baker who is best known for The Florida Project in 2017, may not be a familiar name to most of us, but his style in Red Rocket is eye-catching and impressive. The entire movie looks and feels different as he had apparently shot on 16mm rather than the conventional 35mm film. This gave the movie a grainier feel while Sean Baker also bathed the images in colours that simply provides the film lots of atmosphere. Small town Texas never looked better.
Finally, a word about its title … I had no idea why Red Rocket was used and had to google it for a clue. Apparently, the term “red rocket” is slang to mean a “dog’s erection”! So I guess this is in reference to the main character’s porn star background as well as the fact his house had a dog.
Red Rocket has so much positive things going for it, I just find it surprising that it was largely overlooked during this current awards season. Just goes to proof that these awards are often not necessarily a true representation of the year’s best, and that a movie’s charm and attraction is often subjective and relative to the individuals.