Sean Baker’s comedy-drama “Red Rocket” follows the return of once-popular adult actor Mikey Davies to his native hometown, Texas City, and his desperation to get back on his feet financially, in whatever manner possible. As part of Mikey’s gradual descent as he tries to buy people’s faith with boastful lies, the film presents a range of characters who live in the neighborhood, and at times seems to indirectly point attention towards the socio-economic conditions of these people. Such moments, however, are rare, and it is the cinematic experiments and the unusual and bizarre plot that keep “Red Rocket” an almost good watch.
‘Red Rocket’ Plot Summary: The Hero’s Return
The film begins with Mikey taking a long bus trip back to Texas City, where after leaving his wife Lexi and her mother Lil, he knocks on their door at least a decade later. He is visibly beaten up with wounds on his face and arms, and begs his estranged wife to let him stay at their house for a few days. Although Lexi and Lil are completely against letting him inside the house, the twenty dollars that Mikey had with him makes them reconsider. After a shower and shave, Mikey shares why he had to leave Los Angeles so suddenly; some mix-up with women and gangs, but the mother and daughter are clearly unconvinced, owing to Mikey’s character. He promises to assist with chores and to quickly find work so that he can pay rent while staying. He goes around the town applying for small-time jobs at various places, but every place turns him down because of his past of having worked as an adult actor. Finally, he goes to meet Leondria, a popular lady in the neighborhood who is a marijuana dealer, and starts working for her as a drug peddler. Street-smart and smooth-talker Mikey befriends his young neighbor, Lonnie, who agrees to take him around in his car, and Mikey uses this to go out of town to sell the drugs at a strip club. Their conversation reveals that Mikey and Lexi were popular adult film performers when they left Texas City seventeen years ago to pursue a career in the adult film industry. But things gradually started falling apart, and Lexi left him, got married to someone else, and eventually came back to her hometown to live with her mother. To the gullible Lonnie, Mikey boasts of having starred in innumerable adult videos with many famous stars in the business and even winning three AVN awards, which he himself claims are like Academy Awards in the adult video industry.
Meanwhile, Mikey starts earning money by selling drugs, and one day, when Lil throws a fit about him not washing the dishes, he bursts out and waves a stack of money, equivalent to the entire month’s rent, in their faces, and that quickly turns the mother-daughter’s behavior towards him. He establishes himself as the sole earner in the house, and they now go out to celebrate at a local donut shop. At this donut shop, Mikey spots the young and attractive server, and his eyes light up as he starts thinking of a possible return to Los Angeles, to fame and money.
What Exactly Is Mikey’s Plan For The Future?
That very evening, Mikey goes back to the donut shop alone to get more acquainted with the girl, but finds someone else at the counter. After a couple of attempts, he finally gets to meet her and introduces himself as a big-shot entertainment worker in Las Vegas who has come back to take care of his ill mother. Raylee, also called Strawberry by her friends, is a seventeen-year-old high school girl who is about to turn eighteen in three weeks. As Mikey is smitten by her beauty and charm, he tries to grow close to her using humor and his smooth-talking abilities, and succeeds. Soon, Strawberry helps him earn even more money by selling marijuana to the construction workers who come to the donut shop.
Meanwhile, he starts sleeping with Lexi regularly, who is now more open and warmer to him because of the money he is bringing to the house. Strawberry’s high-school boyfriend, Nate, and he helps her go dump him now that his dream is to launch Strawberry in adult videos and once again earn his position back in the industry as well as in LA. They start an intimate relationship and soon go out on dates, during one of which Strawberry tells him that she knows who he is and also that his profession does not bother her at all. However, when Mikey tries to throw hints at her, she also makes it known that she does not want to be involved in adult films as she would not want to have an awkward life. But when she invites him to spend the night over at her house (as her mother won’t be in town), Mikey talks her into filming their inmate acts only for their own pleasure, and then praises Strawberry for her apparently natural talents that would be perfect in show business. The young girl now is more accepting of the idea, but she mentions that she would only like to shoot scenes with Mikey, and Mikey should also shoot scenes only with her. Finally, by the end, he is able to convince Strawberry to run away with him to LA, where they would earn a living by performing in adult videos.
Mikey’s character is that of a swindler who holds enough charisma to sweet-talk and persuade people into following his ideas. It is merely through convincing (and sometimes helped by cash) that he first gets a roof over his head and then a living after he is back in Texas City. Finally, when he meets Strawberry and again starts to dream big, it does not become clear as to whether he is actually charmed by the young girl who is not even an adult yet, or whether he simply sees her as yet another ace card that he can use to get back to his past life, and the film prefers to keep it this way. This remains the same on the other side as well, for it is unclear as to whether Strawberry herself is falling madly in love with this older man or whether she too is just trying to use him as her way out of the small town. It is perhaps that to Mikey, she is the same as Lexi once was, who he fell in love with (or pretended to) and then used to make a name for himself in the adult film industry.
‘Red Rocket’ Ending Explained: Does Mikey Get To Run Away With Strawberry?
Despite being far from the ideal man, Mikey does not want to go away from Lexi and Lil’s lives as suddenly as he has barged in. Mikey tells Lexi the night before he is about to leave with Strawberry that he is leaving and thanks her and her mother for letting him stay with them for a month when he needed it the most. But Lexi is not happy to hear about it, possibly because of the stoppage in cash flow that Mikey would have brought in had he stayed. That night, as Mikey sleeps, he is violently woken up by Leondria’s daughter June and her henchmen, who have come to collect all the money he had made selling weed. Lexi had Lil call them up, informing them of Mikey’s plans to leave. Somehow evading them, a naked Mikey runs to Leondria’s house and manages to get back only two hundred dollars out of the three thousand that he had made for himself. He is also forced to leave Lil’s house that very night, and keeps walking till morning. He is then seen to arrive in front of Strawberry’s house, where he sees her dancing at the doorway wearing a red bikini. The camera pulls in very close on Mikey’s face as teardrops roll down his cheeks, and then he smiles, and then the film cuts to black, and the credits roll.
Whether Mikey actually gets away with Strawberry is not directly mentioned in the film, and it is possible to think of situations on both sides. The scene where he sees Strawberry in a red bikini is definitely his imagination. It is shot with dreamy aesthetics and upbeat music, a style most common in adult films of the type. That is what Mikey’s dream is: to have Strawberry perform in these films, and it is perhaps what he imagines before ringing her doorbell. Or, it might also be that the tears in his eyes are because of the humiliation from last night, and he decides not to bring along Strawberry into his messed-up life anymore. Either way, what is certain is Mikey’s leaving Texas City, and his survival, of course, for he is a street-smart swindler, a drifter who manages to live on amidst all sorts of troubles, who keeps moving from one situation to another. Perhaps something similar happened to him in Los Angeles, and perhaps something similar will happen wherever he moves to next, and the film only shows one episode in his (mis)adventurous life.
“Red Rocket” has been shot craftily, completely on 16mm film with grainy color images. In its narrative, it also tries to hint at socio-politics; when Mikey rolls up joints in patriotic American flag-colored papers, he is watching the presidential campaign of Donald Trump in 2016. But such scenes are too few, and overall, the film is about the swindler Mikey as he tries to get back to, or maybe start for the first time, his life of luxury.
“Red Rocket” is a 2021 Drama Comedy film directed by Sean Baker.