How do I put this? I’ve never seen anything like Tangerine. It has everything. And yet, it is like nothing else. For starters, Sean Baker’s film is shot entirely with the iphone 5S. With a limited visual scope, Baker compensates with beautiful natural light and dazzling kaleidoscope-like shots of L.A. But this isn’t even what’s truly spectacular about the film. I’ve never enjoyed myself watching any other 2015 film as much as watching Tangerine. It’s hilarious with it’s childish profanity and simply outrageous with it’s jarring humour. I did not know what I was in for. This crazy journey started with an opening that didn’t seem to lead to anything. With smart scenes that suggest a clearer portrayal of L.A’s transgender coterie, the film explores with a cutting subtlety the pervasive discrimination against the transgender culture. But Tangerine never fails to add it’s usual sassy spice and scenes that gives it that pulsating and comical vibe. In a build-up to the film’s explosive climax, it is in the more quiet moments that makes this one a masterpiece.
Tangerine’s opening smacks you with that an infectious humour that’s often so unexpected and inappropriate that you can’t help but indulge in it anyways. After a sweet instrumental tune of Victor Herbert’s Toyland, we’re greeted with ‘Merry Christmas Bit**’. How nice. The film introduces the premise of the action with unusual rapidity. Alexandria (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) are two transgender women whose conversation about nothing in particular becomes a revelation that Alexandria’s pimp boyfriend is seeing another girl. Without a second to spare, Alexandria storms from street to street fishing out all the information she can get. She’s so dogged in her mission that sounds important at first, but is increasingly made to be almost a parody of itself. Even her homegirl Sin-Dee has had enough with all the ‘drama’, saying ‘Now I gotta deal with this sh** right here’. From throwing her tantrums like flipping the food of an old man who helped her, to sitting alone at a bus stop in deep thought over her actions only to continue with an even greater obssession, she alienates herself even more with the deadpan comedy the film uses.
But Alexandria’s narrative isn’t the only one that’s important. If anything, the film’s strength in story telling is apparent in the way it splits different characters into separate paths which are all equally nuanced and interesting. Sin-Dee’s own journey after leaving Alexandria for the day leads her to sexual encounters for extra cash. The film also cuts quite frequently away to the adventures of Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) and the melting pot of customers in his cab. And the next time we see Alexandria, she’s storming a brothel and dragging the living bits out of a girl she believes is the girl that stole her lover. All of this is shot with a sharp eye for detail. Baker and team have quite subtlely established the conflicts within the transgender culture itself and the failings of society where it intersects with the mainstream.
There’s nothing glitzy about being a transgender. This isn’t the Caitlyn Jenner kind of story about being strong and individualistic and a testament of the liberal beliefs (No hate, just saying. Plus she’s campaigning for the film which is really nice.) Instead, we get a real and close-up feel of the false vibrancy of L.A. and its superficial acceptance of the transgender sub-culture. However, Tangerine doesn’t just stop there. It says alot more about desperate times, which has become a constant reality, for transexuals who can only find work in odd jobs like sexual services to earn a living. The scene where Sin-Dee sings a beautiful cover of ‘Toyland’ is one of the most poignant scenes in cinema. With only a handful of people that turn up, amongst which is Alexandria who fervently cheers her friend on, it’s a scene of immense emotional undertones which conveys what little solace people like Sin-Dee can find.
In a ferociously chaotic finale and its aftermath, you’ll find yourself loving this film for its complexity in both craft and themes. Exceptional acting from both Mya and Kitana and narrative vision from Baker lifts Tangerine from it’s humble indie origins to a cinematic triumph. Tangerine is a wonderful melding of light-hearted humour and serious themes that is provocative as it is bittersweet.
“Out here is all about our hustle. And that is it.” – Sin-Dee
Rating: 10/10 One of my highest rated films ever. Made me laugh and reflect harder than any other film this year. Due to its limited release and availability, check out this site for ways to watch it. Available on itunes and google play as well! http://www.magpictures.com/tangerine/
Images courtesy of Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films and Magnolia Pictures.