Tag Archives: Sean Baker

Full Frontal and Funny

Red Rocket

by Christie Robb

Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) is like an ill-trained golden retriever—all smiles and charm until he starts humping your leg and pissing all over the furniture.

In Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, Mikey makes a hangdog reappearance in his hometown of Texas City, Texas. He left 20 years before with hopes of making it big out in Los Angeles—as a porn star. That didn’t exactly turn out well for him and now he finds himself broke and on the doorstep of his ex Lexi (Bree Elrod), begging to be let back inside.

He’s a fast talker who makes a good elevator pitch, and despite a history that you can just tell is littered with drama and bad vibes, Lexi lets Mikey move in—provided he contributes to the rent and does some chores around the house.

From here, Mikey tries to pick up the pieces of his life and start over. Unfortunately, the stigma against sex workers limits his employment prospects. So he hooks up with an old boss and starts peddling weed to make ends meet.

Baker (Tangerine, The Florida Project) has made a comedy this time out, albeit a black one. Once Mikey catches a glimpse of the pert 17-year-old server Strawberry (Suzanna Son) at the local Doughnut Hole, he embarks on a mission to pimp her out to the porn industry.

She’s smart, sex-positive, and down to be filmed, but Mikey is full of lies, promoting unrealistic expectations that give the comedy a touch of a tragic undertone.

All of this is set against 2016 DNC and RNC convention speeches that make reoccurring cameos on the TVs in the background, underscoring the hogwash that Mikey is spouting.

Quotable and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Red Rocket finally answered a question I had floating around the back of my mind for years—exactly how much bouncing would be involved when a well-endowed naked man runs full-out on a city street.  

Tragic Kingdom

The Florida Project

by Hope Madden

Full of the raucous rhythm of an unsupervised childhood, The Florida Project finds power in details and tells an unadorned but potent story.

Co-writer/director Sean Baker follows up his ambitious 2015 film Tangerine with another tale set gleefully along the fringes of society. Where Tangerine used weaves, stilettos and spangles to color the Christmas antics of Hollywood hustlers, here Baker fills the screen with bold colors and enormous, cartoonish images to create a grotesquely oversized playground.

The film begins with as perfect a movie opening as you will ever see.

Six-year-old Moonee (an astonishing Brooklynn Prince) wastes her summer days wandering the Orlando strip surrounding her home, a vivid purple bargain motel catering less to Disney World tourists than to tenants who can’t afford the security deposit world of traditional housing.

When she’s not out finding adventures with her besties Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), Moonee’s probably hustling wholesale perfumes to tourists with her mom Halley (Bria Vinaite).

The one true grown up in the mix, motel manager Bobby, is played with charm and tenderness by Willem Dafoe.

Baker’s many talents include an ear for authentic dialog, a knack for letting a story breathe and an eye for visual details that enrich a tale. But maybe what’s most striking is his ability to tell fresh but universal stories. We all remember elements of unbridled recklessness in our childhood, although very few of us grew up the way Moonee does.

Baker creates a bridge into Moonee’s life, revels in her freedom and bravado, but keeps us always aware of the dangerous edges when you’re blurring childhood and adulthood.

It’s the concept of childhood and adulthood that preoccupies Baker and his story, set in this absurd, low-rent amusement park of a world. As Mooney’s mother, Vinaite offers a fierce mixture of childishness all her own as well as street-savviness. Halley keeps the ugliness of the world away with her own whimsy, and Vinaite’s onscreen chemistry with Prince is authentic and full of tenderness.

As much as Tinsel Town was the perfect backdrop for the struggling glamour of Tangerine, the shadow of Disney World is almost too perfect a setting for the grinding poverty and perverted innocence of The Florida Project.

Block Party


by George Wolf

“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!”

Holiday greetings from Tangerine, an irresistibly wild dive into the dramatic lives of two transgender hookers in LA.

It’s the night before Christmas, and creatures of the night are stirring. The manic Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriquez) has just gotten out of jail and is looking to reconnect with Chester (James Ransone), her boyfriend-slash-pimp. But when her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets it slip that Chester’s been unfaithful with a “fish” (“yes, a real woman, bitch, with a vagina and everything!”), Sin-Dee sets out to track them both down and demand some answers.

Meanwhile, local cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) is eager to resume his business relationship with Sin-Dee, and he ignores his extended family during a Holiday get-together to focus on his secret life. Offended, Razmik’s mother-in-law hits the streets on her own quest to uncover exactly what it is her son-in-law is hiding.

Filming the entire movie via iPhone on location in West Hollywood, director/co-writer Sean Baker has not only created an authentic, in-the-moment slice of life, but also a film that nearly explodes with vitality.

Most of all, Tangerine feels urgently original. The “iPhone movie about transgender hookers” angle may get attention, but Baker’s storytelling is rock solid. There are amateurish moments to be sure, but the film becomes downright artful, pulling you completely into its world with unforgettable characters you care about almost instantly.

Beyond the craziness of daily life “on the block,” Tangerine is also genuinely moving. We feel for Alexandra as she struggles to attract an audience for her Christmas Eve nightclub performance, and ache for Sin-Dee when a hateful act from a carload of assholes leaves her unable to hide the vulnerability underneath her defiant personality.

It’s brash and daring, funny, subversive, insightful and poignant. Really, there are countless reasons to see Tangerine.

Pick one.