The sound of high heels quickly pounding the pavement to a thumping, pulse-inducing song perfectly sets the tone for Tangerine: fast-paced, energetic and gloriously badass. Gripping you from the first hilarious conversation between the two fabulous leads (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) at its heart this is a film all about a journey, albeit one involving a transgender prostitute seeking revenge.
As stories go, it’s pretty straightforward. But what it lacks in narrative complexity it makes up for with a bold choice of subject matter and a stunning vibrancy that laces every moment. Writer and director Sean Baker has scenes firing by in quick succession, the action jumping between Sin-dee’s (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) relentless pursuit of her boyfriend and the ‘fish’ (cisgender woman) he is cheating on her with, and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as she goes about her daily business on the streets. Baker and writer Chris Bergoch also include a third storyline in their script involving an Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) ferrying his customers around L.A. – brief one-shots that add to the fast-pace of the story and the overall humour of the film, as well as a surprising twist when it becomes entangled in the main narrative later on.
The fact that Tangerine is shot entirely on iPhones adds to the film’s energy, an innovative technique that Baker might have used for budgetary reasons, but that also creates a fresh and exciting look. It almost feels like a joyous rollercoaster ride at some points, the fluid, unrestrained camera movements whipping around the characters and amplifying the overall pacing of the narrative. Everything in Tangerine is also fittingly shot in a glorious sun-soaked orange hue, a decision that further enhances that brilliantly vibrant atmosphere. You can almost feel the scorching heat bouncing off the very L.A. sidewalks that Sin-dee and Alexandra walk on.
Semi-improvised dialogue complements the freshness of this tale, as well as the humour. Tangerine is laugh-out-loud throughout, hilarious dialogue bouncing back and forth between the characters, in particular the completely captivating Rodriguez and Taylor as Sin-dee and Alexandra. They are the driving force of the whole film, the presence of these two real trans women not only radical casting, but also adding to the realism of Tangerine’s tale – an aspect that makes the later more poignant moments all the more touching, especially an unexpected ending that is genuinely heartwarming.
A gripping and raw look at a bold subject matter, this is also a groundbreaking film in every sense of the word. Fluidly lensed, with a perfect soundtrack and filled with brilliant humour, especially from the two vibrant leads of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Tangerine pops with colour and energy, and is as fresh as films get.