Red Rocket: A Great Political Movie [critique]

After Florida Project, Sean Baker paints the portrait of a loser who becomes the symbol of ultra-liberal America.

A few months before the election of Donald Trump. Mikey, a washed-up pornstar returns to her hometown in Texas. He settles in with his ex-wife and his ex-mother-in-law for the time to regain his health. He claims to be passing through and is looking for a job, but in a crisis-torn America, and with a resume as short as his dick is long, Mikey can’t find anything. He wanders, on his bike, between refineries and deserted gas stations. He starts selling hash to make some money and comes across Strawberry, a 17-year-old girl, a saleswoman in a donut shop. Mikey is under the spell. He seduces her and gradually sees in her his ticket back to LA… There are several films in Red Rocket. First a nice character study. Mikey is an ambivalent character. Selfish and arrogant, superb and miserable, a guy capable of scamming his loved ones without an ounce of regret. Resourcefulness and lying are his personal gods. His submachine gun chat is his favorite weapon. Cynicism, its best cartridge. And if Sean Baker finds no excuse for him, he films his bastringue seduction and his pathetic flamboyance with formidable energy. We gradually get attached to this inconsistent toy boy thanks to a writing on the wire, irreverent and sensitive, corrosive without being gratuitous.

But it is also thanks to the impressive performance of Simon Rex that it works. Ultra-white smile, velvet gaze, body of Apollo, this former porn star (re)plays her own story and finds here the role of her life. However Red Rocket is a bit more than that. In the background, on TV, the 2016 election is being played out. And behind the portrait of the loser hides a political film. A painting of White Trash America, this America of smashed margins, where shenanigans, lies and cowardice are the keys to survival. Texas suddenly becomes the symbol of all Yankee oppressions (as the kid says “before black gold, we lived on black ivory”). With his dreams of greatness and easy money fueled by his cowardice and immaturity, Mikey becomes the embodiment of Trumpian America, an America ready to do anything to achieve its miserable ambitions.

Of Sean Baker. With: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Ethan Darbone. Duration: 2h08. Released February 2, 2022

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