Cannes Diary—Day 10: Sean Baker’s Red Rocket Takes Off, Festival Fatigue Sinks In

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Festiville correspondent Brian Formo leaves his tuxedo in the cupboard and takes in an early morning screening of “a classic Baker”.

I started my tenth day at Cannes by packing up my suitcase. Originally, this would have been the day I left Cannes but a colleague had recommended that this is the only long film festival where it’s best to stay through the end. It is officially the longest I’ve been at a film festival and today wore me down. A cross-town move yesterday from a magnificent Airbnb to a hotel on the other side of town exhausted me more than I would have imagined, and I’ve been running on limited sleep for many consecutive days. 

But this isn’t a complaint. That advice from my colleague was based on a pre-Covid Cannes, when members of the press would wait in line for hours, not always successfully, to get into a screening. There is a tier system, certain color badges go in first, others later, which means it’s easier to potentially miss out on a big title and have to catch it later in the festival. 

This year, due to Covid protocols, Cannes built a booking site for every type of badge. And while the tier system still exists, it only locks you out of certain screenings, while allowing you to build your own schedule based on planned bookings. Essentially, I’ve only been locked out of the tuxedo premieres due to my badge, which means the additional suit bag I packed wasn’t needed. But that’s okay, that just means I can dress like Bill Murray everyday if I want to. 

Though there were some hiccups when the site went down for several hours at the start of the fest, it’s been a godsend, and something more festivals should use. It allows so much more freedom to schedule meals, figure out writing times, call home. And you know what you’re going to see as opposed to lining up with faint hope. On a day like today, when I desperately needed a midday reset nap after a late night accommodation shuffle and an early morning Red Rocket screening, well, I could actually rest properly knowing I have already secured tickets for all the remaining films I need to see. 

Red Rocket

Sean Baker’s followup to The Florida Project is one of the few movies here to be made during Covid. In fact, Baker was set to film something else prior to Covid but the pandemic downshifted gears for him and he turned to this new project, one easier to film amidst health restrictions. But that back story is not evident in Red Rocket, which is set in 2016 and, with sex workers, weed dealers, and pop song needle drops, feels like classic Baker.

Simon Rex (Scary Movie 3) plays Mikey Saber, a former porn star who moves back in with his estranged wife (Bree Elrod)—also a former porn star—in small town Texas. He’s bruised and on the run from something, though we’re not sure we can believe his story. Right from the get, Mikey is shown as a character who can talk himself up but the reality doesn’t match his narcissism. He also views himself as blameless in every scenario he describes. Mikey starts to piece back together some of his life but an encounter with seventeen-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who works at a donut shop, sets his mind in motion about an adult film comeback with her as a potential new co-star.

Rex, who is mostly known for his days of being an MTV VJ, is a typical outside-the-box casting from Baker. He was also a former model and starred in masturbation videos before Tommy Hilfiger and MTV called him up. Add in a post-MTV attempt at a rap career and that kind of CV is perfect not just for Baker’s love of underdogs, but for this particular character, who lives in faded glory. And Rex is very good in Red Rocket because he approaches the character like a traveling salesman whose product is his confidence. The juggling between selling himself and his actual reality puts him in numerous escalating pickles.

On Letterboxd, Max Coperman celebrates that “Baker always foregrounds the humanism in his stories of people on America’s margins when so often similarly social realist films fall into pits of miserabilism.” BloodyFootSex calls Red Rocket “a fantastic exploration of American culture and what is and isn’t socially acceptable, and how power dynamics allow even the best of us to get swept up in charisma.” And Gardy keys in on the 2016 of it all by writing, “set during the rise of Trump, Red Rocket is the ultimate bye bye (bye) to the narcissistic, childish illusion that the American dream is still attainable with little money in your pocket and even fewer clothes on.” Yes, indeed, that *NSYNC song features prominently in the movie.


Japanese animator Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children) received the loudest and longest standing ovation before a screening, at least that I’ve heard here, just before the premiere of his new film, Belle. I found my way to Belle via a trusted critic, Carlos Aguilar, who is not at Cannes but hyped up the late announcement of this film joining the festival.

Belle is a social media movie, where a shy girl becomes a mega sensation in the fictional platform U, which gives its users a physical avatar that is able to tap into a person’s personal strengths that they downplay in the real world through a lack of confidence. When the avatar of Belle becomes an overnight sensation for her singing and beauty, she meets an infamous dragon avatar who vanquishes foes throughout the platform and is considered a nuisance. Essentially, it’s a Beauty and the Beast tale between the avatars of a pop star and a troll.

The animation is lush but the message is very on the nose. Because this was my first Hosoda, I’m leaning more on Letterboxd members to weigh in. PowWow writes, “mainly this is a reworking of the director‘s earlier Summer Wars. Smashing animation and a return to form after the underwhelming Mirai, but nothing particularly new or inventive.” Miss Peregrine calls Belle “magnificent”, but in line with the social media aspects of Belle, both EmanueleTresca and Angelo Giardano thought it “cringe.”

With that, I will head to bed at a decent hour and rest up to bring you reactions to my final movies of the festival, as well as doling out my own personal awards before Spike Lee’s jury delivers the real winners on Saturday. Bonne nuit.