For a period, antiheroes seemed to be all the rage. In recent years, though, we’ve been gravitating towards kindly characters like Ted Lasso. Maybe that’s because we’re still in a pandemic and social unrest rages on. We thus look to characters who represent the best that humanity has to offer. If you have a more pessimistic outlook, Red Rocket will likely resonate. Of course, even the most cynical individual may have a hard time rooting for this dark comedy’s protagonist.
Best known for his work in the Scary Movie franchise, Simon Rex is just the right amount as sleazy as Mikey Saber. Like Dirk Diggler at the beginning of the 80s, Simon is an adult film star spiraling towards rock bottom. The homeless Simon is forced to seek out his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), who lives with her mother (Brenda Deiss). Although Lexi wants nothing to do with him, Simon is permitted to stay as long as he pays rent. Simon struggles to find a job, having spent more than a decade in the XXX business. He turns to selling weed, finding plenty of customers at a donut shop.
Despite rekindling his sexual relationship with Lexi, Simon is drawn to the red-haired donut clerk, Strawberry (Suzanna Son). Simon sees the potential to get laid and turn the seventeen-year-old into a porn star. Some people have taken issue with the age difference between the leads in Licorice Pizza. Anyone who’s actually watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful film understands the nuances of the age difference and the sincere relationship at its core. Red Rocket is the complete opposite. Simon’s attraction to Strawberry is uncomfortable from the get-go, and the relationship only becomes more problematic. And yet, we’re still oddly drawn to Simon’s story.
Every family has that one train wreck of a relative they dread seeing at Thanksgiving. At the same time, we’re still interested to see them make a scene. Simon is like that relative, digging himself deeper and deeper in debauchery. You wouldn’t want to spend more than 128 minutes with him, but Red Rocket knows when to say, “Bye Bye Bye.” For some people, even a feature runtime will be too much. As someone from a white trash family, though, Red Rocket proved more identifiable than I care to admit. Simon’s journey ranges from hilarious, to infuriating, to satisfying, which seems to be what director Sean Baker was aiming for.
In some respects, Red Rocket couldn’t be more different than Baker’s previous feature, The Florida Project. Sure, both films center on poor, shameless people barely getting by. Red Rocket lacks the heart and childlike wonder that Brooklynn Prince brought to Florida Project, however. Considering how sentimental and politically correct the entertainment landscape has become, it’s refreshing to see a consistently mean-spirited film. Baker’s movies often shine the spotlight on marginalized groups, such as transgender people and undocumented immigrants. Red Rocket is among his few films to center on an outcasted white man. Instead of asking us to sympathize with Simon, Baker understands that he’s the worst, turning him into a punch line rather than an underdog.