This is one hell of a film.
Trust me when I say you'll be taken for a joyride into the quirky and kinky depths of LA that Hollywood would never dare reveal - Tangerine is full throttle and unforgiving. There are prostitutes and there are broken families. You see crack being smoked in a desolate bathroom. You see people drenched in piss. You see dicks, blowjobs and booze. And you see a lot of public transport... director Sean Baker's one crazy kid.
In short, the plot follows trans-woman sex worker Sin-Dee (Kiki Rodriguez) - fresh out of jail - meeting up with her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), also a trans sex worker, at Donut Time on Christmas Eve. Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee's boyfriend - a pimp called Chester - has cheated on her. Sin-Dee flips and, her mind clouded in rage, storms off across LA in search of both Chester and the 'fish'. I can safely say it's the Christmas film the 21st century needs.
Tangerine's indie core and risqué material make for a belting comedy. Not only is it a captivating story, but the script is so seamless that you thoroughly believe it's all happening live. This pseudo-improvised atmosphere makes for some classic one-liners - my personal favourite: "You didn't have to Chris Brown the bitch," because nothing says Christmas like referencing domestic abuse. Despite all the hilarity that ensues, nothing prepares you for what is quite a slow and thoughtful ending with a nice message.
Oh, did I mention the leads are genuinely transgender? This shatters casting conventions. Seriously, apart from TV shows like Orange is the New Black or Sense8, Hollywood is severely lacking not only trans characters (Dallas Buyers Club the exception) but trans actors. Hopefully Tangerine is a turning point because there is an Awards campaign backing the lead actresses of the film - a first for cinema. It's completely justified - the chemistry between both Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor is phenomenal. In fact, Mya Taylor is insanely good - for a debut it's remarkably composed.
Believe me when I say the material is just half the reason so many critics have lauded Tangerine. Incredibly, it's all recorded on an iPhone. Let that sink in - the smartphone millions of us use every day to look up cat videos and play fruit ninja created a bona fide indie hit that featured at the Sundance Festival. This is a whole new era for filmmaking, where ridiculously tight budgets can be worthwhile and fruitful endeavours. The use of the iPhone brings many advantages - it's cost-efficient and intimate. The main disadvantage - sometimes you really can tell the film's being recorded on an iPhone. Certain scenes have a very 'documentary' or 'TV' feel. Somehow I feel this is unavoidable, but the film does get better, especially once you accept the cinematic direction.
Irrespective, Tangerine is fresh, new and just downright great. Why can't every poor sod who decides to grab a camera and make a film there and then conjure up something like Tangerine? It shows the talent Sean Baker has. The John Waters allusions are fitting, although I think Tangerine is in a different league.
Quality indie cinema with attitude.
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