Simon Rex’s Mikey Saber is a twitchy creature, head held excessive, as if he’s rising above his personal shit. He’s all the time craning round, all the time looking out. He strikes like a meerkat and thinks like a snake, eternally scheming. If he ever had an consideration span, it’s lengthy gone, alongside together with his dignity and self-awareness. “Earlier than lengthy, it’ll be like we’re nonetheless married,” he says to ex-partner Lexi (Bree Elrod), who could be very reluctantly permitting him to crash on her sofa. “We’re nonetheless married,” she glares. “Ooh, there’s a dragonfly!” he responds, staring out the window, instinctively ignoring her as a result of her info just isn’t what he’s searching for.
Mikey is, or was, a porn actor. They each had been, however he stayed the course, making it large in Los Angeles till issues fell aside. Now, with a pack of Viagra and a misplaced superiority advanced, he’s fled again dwelling to town he hates, to possibly the one individual left who’ll take him in. He thinks he’s a giant shot, however no-one cares — to individuals right here, he’s the identical previous scumbag he all the time was; most of them — principally ladies — don’t even hassle to disguise their disdain. Lexi reminds him he’d by no means set foot within the city once more. “After which the world fucked me, what can I say?” he spits again.
Director Sean Baker loves prodding about within the remnants of The American Dream. Virtually all of his movies — actually the previous couple of, which embrace Starlet, Tangerine and The Florida Venture — observe individuals totally on the margins, who’re caught, shackled by circumstance, making an attempt to get out, trying to find escape, success, one other life, one other go-round. And to Mikey, everyone seems to be a commodity. Everybody has been placed on the planet for his profit, to assist him climb society’s ladder, trampling over them as he does so.
On paper, Mikey is repellent; on display, compelling. Simon Rex makes him staggeringly charismatic.
A lot motion in Purple Rocket, because it did Tangerine, happens in a doughnut store, the place individuals flock for sugar and weed, and this one exists by a monstrous oil refinery. It’s 2016: on tv, Trump charms his audiences, telling them he has what they want. In the meantime, Mikey will get into promoting weed. “I’m a patriotic boy,” he tells the newsagent as he buys Stars and Stripes rolling papers. However is he? Most likely not. He doesn’t know what he’s. Simply what he desires. He actually tells Raylee (Suzanna Son), who works within the doughnut store and calls herself Strawberry, what she desires to listen to, as a result of he develops a right away crush on her, and sees her as his ticket out of right here — each regardless of and due to the truth that she’s 17. Possibly, he thinks, he could be reborn in porn as an agent.
On paper, Mikey is repellent; on display, compelling. Simon Rex makes him staggeringly charismatic, even charming, offering one of the crucial watchable performances in, properly, ever. We’ve got to be drawn to him so we are able to perceive how he reels in everyone else, and we’re — he’s endlessly fascinating, enjoyable and humorous and ridiculous. Baker has a knack for unimaginable casting and he additionally surrounds Rex with individuals who really feel like they’ve lived of their characters eternally, although most of them have by no means acted earlier than. That’s Baker’s large magic trick, performed out ingeniously right here — fictional characters appear actual; the movie feels fly-on-the-wall, however is completely plotted. It’s supremely propulsive, a lot of the time seeming prefer it’s simply hanging out with these individuals, however all of the whereas seeding issues in, build up relationships and resentments, setting the stage for drama.
Regardless of its lead character’s hole coronary heart, although, the movie is an affectionate one. It’s shot on a lovingly grainy Tremendous 16mm by cinematographer Drew Daniels, who made Trey Edward Shults’ Waves look so spectacular, and he makes Purple Rocket as heat because the Texas solar. Right here, Texas Metropolis can be an other-worldy place, nearly sci-fi, the Donut Gap’s night-time neon glimmering in entrance of the oil refinery’s metropolis of inexperienced and orange lights, whereas surrounding streetlamps flicker, the sky romantically awash with chimney smoke. Fantasy is within the air.
Texas Metropolis doesn’t revolve round Mikey Saber, however he thinks it does, blinded by delusion and desperation. Rex, Baker and his common co-writer Chris Bergoch have created one among cinema’s actually singular characters. He’s somebody you can’t and won’t root for – but you possibly can’t take your eyes off him. By the point the movie finishes, you don’t fairly know what’s hit you. After which he’s gone.