If I were you, I’d stop reading this review right now. Not because of spoilers, and not because my words are meaningless, but because I want you to feel the same amount of gleeful surprise that I did as the credits rolled. But, I also want you to support the film and the filmmakers behind it, so I will go on to satisfy your curiosity in regards to this little, yet madly vibrant movie called Tangerine.
First, we need to get this little fact out of the way: Tangerine was shot solely and wholly on iPhones. Some may find that super cool and inventive, while other more traditionally inclined moviegoers will find it immediately repulsive, for this is cinema after all! they will say. But really, Tangerine is so much more than the device that captured it.
The true spirit of this Sundance hit lies in its narrative that is simultaneously rambunctious, nasty, tender, and genuine—a recipe that you really don’t really think will work until after the cake comes out of the oven. And this one turned out oh so sweet.
Writer/director Sean Baker (Starlet) guides us into the world of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), two transgender women and prostitutes of Los Angeles who have a whole lot of catching up to do now that Sin-Dee just got out of jail. Really, who knew so much could happen in twenty-eight days of kicking it behind bars? Sin-Dee certainly didn’t, and that’s precisely why she flips her s**t when Alexandra accidentally lets slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester (James Ransone), who also happens to be her pimp, has been cheating on her with a “fish,” a.k.a. a real woman.
Tangerine then becomes a wild goose chase of sorts, as Sin-Dee runs—no—struts her way around LA hilariously harassing anyone she can until she can track down her cheating man and his mistress. No wise words from Alexandra can calm her down, because at this point, Sin-Dee can only see red, the color of revenge. But this isn’t the only story. Inquisitively and with a knack for playful investigation, Baker also explores those who lie on the periphery of the world of prostitution. Razmik (Karren Karagulian) is an Armenian cab driver who seems to be going through the rather mundane, and often straight up nasty motions of being a cabbie in one of the most unpredictable cities in America. But as we come to learn, Razmik is a customer and a friend to the ladies on the aforementioned rampage, and his story becomes wonderfully intertwined in a rather romantic fashion.
It’s because of this aura of serendipity, which meets the true grit and spunk of LA street life where you get a sense of Baker’s love, not only for the city itself, but also for the people within it who have been marginalized by the powers that be. Anyone who has lived or even briefly stepped a toe on the city’s pothole-filled streets will immediately understand the world of Tangerine, as it pulses with the same raw sensitivity that vibrates quietly beneath the surface of the city’s skin.
But let’s get back to those two troublemakers, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, or more importantly the two women that play them. As two untrained actors who have never graced the big screen before, it’s understandable that Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor may be a bit green on camera, and they are. From the very first frame, you can recognize the nerves, and maybe even the immaturity of literally being picked off the streets to play a part.
Get passed that—or better yet, embrace it, because any sense of insecurity that our leading ladies exude ultimately becomes part of Tangerine’s soul. It evolves into vulnerability laced with an innate confidence that has come with the territory of walking LA’s toughest neighborhoods trying to make a living selling their bodies.
As the film progresses, Rodriguez and Taylor’s reliance on each other magnifies, both in their characters and in their roles as actors. It’s a friendship that we ought to look at as a template to mold ourselves after. Sure, these girls like to make trouble every now and then, because, hey, it’s fun as hell, but they have fostered such a bed of warmth for each other that it even becomes a model of envy. This is what friendship should look like, despite the odds, despite the colors, and especially despite what others might think of you for it.
TANGERINE comes to hits theatres and Arclight Hollywood Friday, July 10th. Buy tickets here.