HCAF21: ‘Red Rocket’ Review

Sean Baker returns to the big screen with his new film starring Simon Rex as a washed-up porn star seeking redemption in all the wrong places.



I had the pleasure of attending the Houston Cinema Arts Festival on behalf of The Nerd Corps as press to cover the films shown during its run in Houston, Texas. I want to thank the wonderful people at the Houston Cinema Arts Society for allowing me and Luis to experience so much beautiful cinema in a city we both love and adore. The opening night treated us to a screening of Red Rocket, the newest film from Tangerine, and The Florida Project director, Sean Baker. The screening was followed by a Q&A session including director Sean Baker along with some of his cast like Bree Elrod, Brittany Rodriguez, and Ethan Darbone. Was magic struck once again in Sean Baker’s newest directorial effort?

Red Rocket is directed by Sean Baker, written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, and stars Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, and Suzanna Son. The film which Baker has been planning since one of his first films, Starlet. Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic allowed for the film to get fast-tracked as Baker could not work on an upcoming project due to quarantine protocols. Thus, with a minimal crew and a devoted cast of non-professional actors, Red Rocket was completed in various locations in Southeast Texas. The film marks the return of Simon Rex to the film industry after a long absence.

Sean Baker crafts a wonderful film that once again puts eyes on his growing stellar filmography. Simon Rex plays a “suitcase pimp” chasing redemption but blinded by greed and his selfish desires with vigor and nuance. Bree Elrod especially delivers a fantastic performance as Mikey’s ex-wife and ex-co-star, Lexi. The rest of the cast of non-professional actors steal the light and showcase their growing abilities. I was especially blown away by Brittany Rodriguez who plays the enforcer to a very important drug supplier in Texas City. This time Baker teams up with cinematographer Drew Daniels who expertly crafts the visual language of the film.

The film struggles at times to keep its footing introducing bits and pieces about characters that are abandoned or made minuscule in retrospect to the story at hand. Even though there are moments we can truly grasp the situation at hand, the film is lacking a stable pace that can let some of these moments breathe. I found myself liking the first half a lot more than the second half even though I had a great time with the film. Sean Baker once again knows how to bring out laughs from the audience and the performers turn in a great job selling the comedy in here. Even though there are faults within the film it is still a fantastic flick and another strong outing by one of the most interesting directors working today.

Watch Red Rocket in theaters and on streaming/VOD until next year.

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