Red Rocket is a hysterically funny treatise on the concept of an American hero. Instead of inciting patriotic hype Sean Baker proposes a question: What constructs the image of a hero in a time when a person like Donald Trump is voted to serve as the country’s president?
Simon Rex plays Mike Saber, a former porn star returning to his hometown. His career has stalled, and money has run out. In many ways this ceaselessly self-absorbed and brash protagonist reads like an allegory of Trump, using other people to his own advantage while being prepared to throw them under a truck should his own position be threatened.
Sean Baker does not, however, settle for simple metaphors or allegories. Instead, he creates a protagonist with many contradictions. While Mike Saber is undoubtedly an amoral narcissist whose every action and choice of words is reprehensible, it is impossible to dispute his right to exist. He is, despite everything, only a human. Red Rocket is not a film interested in political correctness, but it does convey a deeply humane worldview.
The film’s cast consists mostly of local amateur actors. With a colourful bunch of characters and memorable locations, Red Rocket is a window into that part of America which is usually shadowed by billboards.
A true gem of American cinema, Sean Baker (b. 1971) got the general public’s attention with The Florida Project (2017) but had won festival crowds over already with Tangerine (2015), which has since reached cult status. The film was filmed with an iPhone 5 and tells the story of two sex workers.
Baker works on micro budgets outside the studio system, which gives him an immense leeway. Red Rocket was filmed mostly without official permits – at times the crew had to hide from authorities. Simon Rex was cast a mere three days before filming began.
Baker is a true cinephile auteur whose films are full of ecstatic freedom and anarchism. With his producer wife Samantha Quan, they are the Cassavetes and Rowlands of the new millennium! (Juho Kuosmanen)