Directed by Sean Baker | Written by Baker and Chris Bergoch | 130 min | | ▲▲▲▲△ | VOD
It’s 2016 and Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) pulls into his small Texas hometown not exactly a conquering hero.
He’s been working in the adult film industry in California for years and things haven’t worked out. This guy has the gift of the gab and certainly isn’t above exaggeration as he applies for whatever work he thinks he can get — though that doesn’t mean he’s foolin’ anybody.
When he can’t land a straight job he tracks down the local dealer (Judy Hill) and offers to sell some weed. He’s crashing at the home of his formerly estranged ex-wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), and her mother, Lil (Brenda Deiss), though they’re not entirely believing his bullshit, either. The only one buying that is a neighbour, Lonnie (Ethan Darbone) and maybe a 17-year-old (Suzanna Son) who works at the Donut Hole.
Plot? There’s not much of it here. Mikey hangs out and tries to impress his neighbour with exaggerations (at best) from the professional life he walked away from while he tries to make it with the teenager. This as he builds trust with his ex, lying to everyone around him. Rex brings an intensely caffeinated charm, but his Mikey is wildly selfish. You can see none of this is going to end well for him or anyone close to him.
While Baker unspools this anxious, meandering dark comedy, he’s not here to judge anyone, but he’s also clear-eyed. He populates his movie with non-actors, and shoots in and around Texas City and Galveston near the gulf coast, bringing the same sense of unfussy authenticity he did to both Tangerine and The Florida Project, and more than a little added subtext.
And by that I mean via the portrait of one man’s life decisions what Baker is actually doing is providing a sketch of a culture. This is America in paupertate — the machinery of the oil business lingers in the backdrop of most scenes but the people in this story barely scrape by despite constant evidence of massive resource and wealth management. People buy groceries at the gas station. Everyone smokes. The Texas Killing Fields lie just across a placid stretch of water. Having sex for money might be the best way out.
When someone calls Mikey “a suitcase pimp,” they don’t know how right they are.
It’s no mistake that Baker tells a story of a hustler who lies as easily as he breathes, a man who would never take accountability for his behaviour, and sets it in 2016. Trump’s Presidential Campaign — on signage, on TV — and all his corrupt intent is spun into this film’s dark heart.