Baker said he’s been the recipient of plenty of angry comments before, so he is philosophical about the impending reaction to Red Rocket‘s open-ended tale of a washed-up porn star in pursuit of a teenager. He’s also confident that A24, the film’s U.S. distributors, will support him.
“A24 is taking it domestically in the United States, and you know they’re a fearless company, and I think they’re going to take anything that comes our way head on,” he said. “But I don’t want to be negative about it. I know we’re tackling tough subjects here, and I know there are themes and images that are triggering in this film, I get it. But again, it’s part of the discussion… we’re just going to see how audiences take it. I understand it’s going to be divisive, and I understand I’m going to get some hate mail, it’s OK.”
Playing in Competition at the festival, the film stars Simon Rex (Scary Movie) as penniless porn star Mikey Saber—a narcissistic wrecking ball of a man whose return to his Texas hometown is met with outrage and recriminations from his wife (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law (Brenda Deiss). When his head is turned by a teenager named Strawberry (Suzanna Son), Mikey sees not only a gratifying sexual conquest, but a porn-fueled meal ticket back to his old life in LA.
Baker acknowledged that the story’s open ending might add fuel to the fire of that potential hate mail, given that he aggravated audiences that way with his previous film The Florida Project, but that the ambiguous ending was vital to him. “I like to be challenged when seeing a film,” he said. “I want to think about the film. If it’s incredibly literal, it doesn’t allow me to do any of the thinking after the fact. I know this looks close to the ending of Florida Project and I suppose it is, but I liked the debate that came from the ending of The Florida Project, even though I got so much hate mail. 50 percent of people hated the ending. We tried it again with this film in a slightly different way. Ultimately, it might be frustrating at first but ultimately more rewarding.”
Baker also explained his reasons for setting the film in industrial Texas City during the run-up to the 2016 election: “No matter what side of the aisle you’re on in the U.S., we did not see the Trump win coming… It was a major twist, almost like a movie twist. So, looking back at that time, it was almost like looking back at an innocence, looking back at a naivete. So I found that a fascinating structure of where to place my film.”
As with Baker’s previous films Tangerine, Starlet and The Florida Project, Baker co-wrote the script with Chris Bergoch, while Drew Daniels (Waves) served as cinematographer, shooting on 16mm film.