Saturday, September 5, 2015
Directed by Sean Baker
Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 4, 2015 9:20PM
"Tangerine" begins quietly on an early Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. Two friends share a celebratory donut after being recently reunited. While catching up, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets a secret slip which causes Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) to explode in to a major hissy fit, sending her off on a day-long trek, up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, to right this serious wrong. That this involves two transgender prostitutes creates a whole new dynamic, taking us in to a somber but riveting world most people go out of their way to avoid noticing. Director Sean Baker has crafted a playful but moving slice of life on the rough, seedy streets of East Hollywood, an area well-known for working girls with something extra.
The secret revealed is that while Sin-Dee was in jail for almost thirty days, Chester (James Ransone), her pimp/boyfriend, has been hooking up with a "fish" or in non-slang language, a real woman. Angry and hurt, Sin-Dee is going to hunt down Chester to demand an explanation for this betrayal. And that's the basic plot of our film. But what brings this micro-budgeted indie to life is the wild antics and sassy attitude of our leading ladies along with the colorful characters we meet during this comically strange journey.
With her dream of performing on stage happening later that evening at a West Hollywood club, Alexandra is willing to go with Sin-Dee but doesn't want to get involved with any drama. Sin-Dee promises but it's short-lived. As the day progresses and pinning Chester down grows more complicated, the angry hooker redirects her rage at Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan), the woman involved. Located at a rundown motel, turning tricks out a room, Sin-Dee drags Dinah out, forcing her to go with her to find their pimp to finally settle this matter.
There's a subplot involving Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian taxi driver. He has a taste for this type of Hollywood lady of the streets with a soft spot (or hard, if you want to go there) in particular for Sin-Dee. Informed by Alexandra that she's back and will be at her show, Razmik is desperate to see her, willing to escape the middle of a family holiday gathering for the chance. This proves not to be a wise move, unraveling into a madcap, messy finale.
Much like Mr. Baker's last film, the underrated, "Starlet" about the unlikely friendship between a young porn star (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly woman (the late Besedka Johnson), "Tangerine" focuses on the fierce, tight bond between Alexandra and Sin-Dee, trying to hold each other up as they search for love and respect, which comes in short supply with their line of work. Ms Taylor and Ms Rodriguez, two non-professional actors Mr. Baker found at the LGBT Center in Hollywood, bring a sense of realism to their roles but also deliver fine, comedic performances.
"Tangerine", which premiered and received plenty of attention at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is most notable for being filmed entirely with an Iphone 5S (three to be exact) and may be the first feature released theatrically in this format. My honest, initial reactions to hearing this was horror, then skepticism to finally feeling that this was the beginning of the apocalypse of movies. Perhaps a little dramatic but I have a genuine concern about technology shrinking the scope of cinema to fit ever shrinking devices. After seeing the results, I must admit the film looks really good. There is nothing about the images here that feels small or slight. With Baker and Radium Cheung behind the phones, they manage to capture a frenzied energy that pops off the big screen. The shimmering light from the California sun creates a harsh, saturated look that's quite effective.
"Tangerine" is hysterically fun, emotionally raw and delightfully insane. While the sight and sound of shrieking trans hookers may not be everyone's idea of entertainment, the film creates a hilarious, must-see experience during which you are taken on this street-wise, screwball trip inside their domain.