New London Film Critics Review – Jack Thorne – “Red Rocket” movie
Simon Rex does an outstanding job in this film, despite playing a character with few if any redeeming qualities. If you feel sympathy for anyone, it’s the guy who plays Lonnie. I’ll be honest, I thought this movie would be along the lines of Boogie Nights, and it wasn’t even close, but it did save me engaged. – New London Film Critics Review
New London Film Critics Review – Jack Thorne – “Red Rocket” movie
Red Rocket is a 2021 American comedy-drama film directed by Sean Baker, from a screenplay by Baker and Chris Bergoch. Writer, Producer, Actor. The film stars Simon Rex as Mikey Saber, a formerly successful but now near penniless adult entertainer who, in 2016, returns to his small Texas hometown; there he cares less about people’s affection and acceptance than “to persuade them to do what he wants”, with the film bearing “witness [to] his scams.”
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or and was released in limited theaters on December 10, 2021, by A24. The film has won awards at international film festivals including Deauville, Mill Valley and Cannes. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of the year and was nominated for Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards. Rex earned the Best Actor award from the New London Film Critics Significance.
Plot – New London
In 2016, Mikey Saber returns to Texas City, his Gulf Coast hometown. Badly bruised and almost broke, he arrives at the modest home shared by Lexi, his estranged wife, and her mother Lil. Mikey begs Lexi and Lil to let him stay at their house, but they insist that he get a job and perform household chores.
The handsome and fast-talking Mikey tries to land work at a local diner and a Dollar General store, but is hindered by a nearly twenty-year gap in his résumé. After he admits to potential employers that he spent those years working as a porn star in Los Angeles, they refuse to hire him. Desperate, Mikey persuades Leondria, a marijuana dealer, to give him his old “job” back and sell her pot. Leondria and her daughter, June, disputatious that Mikey will smoke the extract himself but when he returns with his amends, their business theory continues. After sleeping on the couch for several nights, Mikey starts having sex with Lexi. Eventually she invites him to share her bedroom.
Mikey gives Lexi and Lil a month’s rent in support and takes them to a donut shop to celebrate. He is smitten with Strawberry, an attractive 17-year-old girl who works at the counter. He regularly returns to the donut shop, and persuades Strawberry to let him sell pot to the construction workers who frequent the shop. When Mikey causes Strawberry to break up with Nash, her high-school boyfriend, Nash and his parents confront Mikey in the donut shop parking lot and beat him up. Strawberry and Mikey soon start a sexual relationship, which Mikey hides from Lonnie. When Mikey disappears for a weekend with Strawberry, Lexi grows suspicious and jealous. After quarreling, Lexi hurls a coffee pot towards Mikey, which narrowly misses his head; he grabs her and yells in response, as Lil listens in secret.
Mikey becomes friends with Lexi’s neighbor, Lonnie, who knew about Mikey and Lexi when they first became porn stars in the early 2000s. Lonnie is intrigued by Mikey’s tales about his porn career and sexual encounters. They visit a strip club and spend time together, but after hanging out for a few weeks, Mikey causes Lonnie to swerve across traffic at a highway off-ramp, creating a massive vehicle pile-up. Mikey tells Lonnie to forget they were never friends, and persuades Lonnie to hide Mikey’s involvement in the accident. After being arrested later that night, Lonnie’s lawyer announces on T.V. that Lonnie assumes sole responsibility for the pile-up. After seeing on T.V. that he was not implicated in the accident, Mikey is overcome with joy. Soon after, he persuades Strawberry to travel with him to Los Angeles to pursue a career in adult films.
After Mikey informs Lexi that he is leaving the next morning, she and Lil convince Leondria to send June and her brothers to confiscate the $3,000 that Mikey had earned from selling Leondria’s marijuana. Mikey sneaks out of a bedroom window naked when Leondria’s children confront him in the middle of the night, running to Leondria’s house to beg her to return his money. She gives him $200 and tells him to leave, and saying that the plan was always to get him out of Texas City. Humiliated and nearly broke again, Mikey leaves with a few meager possessions. After travelling all night on foot to Strawberry’s house, she appears in the front doorway dressed in a red bikini. He stares at her in awe before his eyes begin to well-up.
Cast – New London
Simon Rex as Mikey Davies/Saber
Bree Elrod as Lexi Davies
Suzanna Son as Raylee / Strawberry
Brenda Deiss as Lil
Judy Hill as Leondria
Marlon Lambert as Ernesto
Brittney Rodriguez as June
Ethan Darbone as Lonnie
Shih-Ching Tsou as Ms. Phan
Parker Bigham as Nash Parker
Brandy Kirl as Nash’s mother
Dustin “Hitman” Hart as Nash’s father
New London Production – “Red Rocket” movie
Baker and Bergoch conceived of the idea for the Saber character while researching the adult film industry for their film Starlet (2012), during which they met a number of men who fit the archetype of a “suitcase pimp,” which Baker defines as “male talent who lives off a female talent in the adult film world.”
With regard to casting, the director had Simon Rex in consider five years previous to shooting, but had never introduced himself until, on October 23, 2020, Baker called Rex, convinced him to send an audition tape via iPhone, giving him just five minutes to prepare. Baker chose Rex, a model, MTV VJ, actor, and rapper for the role, who then drove to Texas to avoid a post-flight quarantine, as filming was set to begin in three days. David Rooney, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, referred to the casting of Rex as a “winking joke”, as he had starred in solo masturbation videos for a gay pornography company before establishing himself in his career. Because Baker had asked Rex to trust him, Rex did not tell his agent about the film until after shooting had ended. Baker approached Suzanna Son in 2018 after a screening of Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot ten days after she moved to Los Angeles. He didn’t call her for two years. Darbone was a waiter at a restaurant in Nederland when Baker approached him because he “liked his look.” Rodriguez, who had been a regular at the Donut Hole location which was near the plant she worked before she was laid off, was walking her dog when Baker pulled over to ask her to audition.
Principal photography began on October 26, 2020, and concluded on November 19, 2020, in Texas, United States, during the COVID-19 pandemic, using rigorous safety protocols. Red Rocket was shot on 16 mm film. The film had a crew of 10 people, no rehearsal time and mostly non-actors.
Filming locations included restaurants in Texas City and Nederland, a donut shop in Groves, as well as the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier in Galveston. The Donut Hole was open for business in the morning while filming took place in the evening.18
Securing the rights to the song “Bye Bye Bye” was not part of the initial budget. All five members of NSYNC had to approve its use.1920 Actress Suzanna Son recorded a cover version of the song for the official motion picture soundtrack.
Creative influences – “Red Rocket” movie – New London
Baker has “devoted [his] career to tell stories that excavate stigma and normalize lifestyles” of sex workers through his films. Baker stated that in Red Rocket he wanted to bonus homage to “Italian eroticism” and sexploitation films by directors from the 70’s like Fernando Di Leo and Umberto Lenzi. He was also inspired by Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express for the outdoor scenes.
New London Release – “Red Rocket” movie
A24 acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film in February 2021. International distribution rights were sold to Focus Features, Le Pacte, Lev Cinemas and Roadshow Entertainment.
Red Rocket had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on July 14, 2021, where it received a five minute standing ovation.It also screened at film festivals in Deauville, Hamburg, London, Mill Valley, Miskolc, New York, Telluride, Rome, San Sebastián and Vancouver among others.
As part of Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival and the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, a drive-in screening of Red Rocket was scheduled in Houston on November 8, 2021, featuring appearances by Baker, Scott, and the film’s cast.38 In the aftermath of a mass casualty event at Scott’s concert three days earlier, the event was cancelled.
The film had a limited theatrical release on December 10, 2021, beginning in New York and Los Angeles.
Reception – “Red Rocket” movie
New London Box office
In its opening weekend, the film earned $88,195 from 6 theaters for a per screen average of $14,699.
New London Critical response
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 87% of 131 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.0/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Led by Simon Rex’s magnetic performance, Red Rocket is another vibrant, ground-level look at modern American life from director/co-writer Sean Baker.”43 Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 75 out of 100 based on 41 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
Todd McCarthy writes of Red Rocket that “[e]ven before much happens, the excuse of a very specific location and cultural mindset is very intense.” He praises both Baker and lead Simon Rex for their “tremendous energy” and says the film “feels as creatively pure as a novel by a kid just out of college.” Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, on the other hand, calls the ca. 130-minute film “rambling”, in particular, describing the middle section “wherein Mikey ensnares [the] freckle-faced 17-year-old donut shop employee… Strawberry (Suzanna Son)”, scheming their escape to Los Angeles so that he can lead her to adult film stardom as “one-note and repetitious”. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter also criticizes the film mildly for “prolix stretches”, saying “it could have used some tightening. But it’s a pleasure to put yourself in Baker’s capable hands.” Says Peter Bradshaw: “With Red Rocket, Sean Baker has given us an adult American pastoral, essentially a comedy, and another study of tough lives at the margin, close in spirit to his lo-fi breakthrough Tangerine.” Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair writes, “Baker’s choice is a rather perfect one—in contextual terms and actual ones, too. Rex’s performance is fleet and nimble, gregarious and shaded in darkness. He and Baker make staccato music together.”
Some reactions to the film have stirred a debate about sexual morality in film in the post Me Too era. Seitz of RogerEbert.com concludes that Red Rocket is “the least of the list” of Baker-Bergoch’s “impressive library of realistic movies about the rainbow coalition of the American underclass”, going on to question moments in the sexually graphic Red Rocket where, “if the filmmakers aren’t exactly endorsing their protagonist’s middle-aged, borderline pedo-pimp obsession with Strawberry, they’re not being as rigorous about mediating it as they should.” Brianna Zigler in Gawker responds: “It was both refreshing and exhilarating to watch an anti-hero go that low, during a time where it seems like audiences feel obligated to reject bad fictional behavior that in a blog post Top Screenwriters wrote isn’t explicitly punished.” Variety’s Clayton Davis said the film’s “risqué” subject matter could be a hindrance but encouraged award voters to nominate Rex, Baker, and Bergoch for Academy Awards.