Tangerine - Second Opinion Review
One of the most beautiful and enjoyable things about the medium of film is how it can capture life in a way that is as entertaining as it is truthful. Tangerine is a low budget gem that gives us a day in the lives of two transgender sex workers in present day Los Angeles.
Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriquez) and Alexandria (Mya Taylor) are working girls and best friends celebrating Sin-Dee’s recent release from prison on Christmas Eve. Then Alexandria lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s pimp and boyfriend Chester has been cheating on her while she was away. Sin-Dee is then prepared to tear up the town looking for the “white fish” (white cisgender woman) who is trying to steal her man. Alexandria, meanwhile, just wants people to come see her sing.
Immediately with Tangerine you are struck by the sheer rawness of it. Shot on two iPhones with lens adaptors and small steadycam rigs on the streets of L.A, you get a very 'in the moment' view of the events. This is exactly what this kind of story needed: a very grounded-in-reality-base to let the strong personalities of its two main characters shine. The film never goes out of its way to condemn nor romanticise Sin-Dee and Alexandria’s lives as sex workers, it is simply part of their reality. It also does something that seems to be outside of the scope of Hollywood in actually having transgender actresses playing transgender women. Kitana Kiki Rodriquez and Mya Taylor are first-time actresses, and bring a lot of personality and frank humour to the characters as well as a very sweet and genuine friendship. Some people might dislike the lack of concrete and clear narrative, but it has a pace and vibe all its own that feels very true. This is something probably aided significantly by the fact that the two lead actresses gave writer-director Sean Baker a lot of input and ideas for the film based on their own life experiences. It’s slice of life, not unlike the Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, but with a rougher, warts and all approach.
The film’s climax brings everything full circle in many ways. It ends the day in the same doughnut shop it began in, and we come back to the conversation between Sin-Dee and Alexandria from the first scene. However this time we have all the additional relevant people like Chester, the “fish” who slept with him, Razmik; a cabdriver regular customer of Sin-Dee and Alexandria’s who is dealing with the clashing of his family life and his private activities, Razmik’s raging mother in law, and a very (hilariously) exasperated and fed-up shop employee. It’s incredibly satisfying in a way that is bombastic but still in keeping with the rest of the film’s tone.
If I had to fault Tangerine for anything, it would be that I found the soundtrack to be a little invasive at times. Most of the time it felt natural and worked with the visuals, but occasionally it would just take over and distract from what was happening on screen for me. Also the handheld cinematography did veer into nauseating a few times, but that’s something that’ll be different for everyone.
Tangerine is a perfect example of what low-budget independent filmmaking can be capable of. It is entertaining, funny (blackly so at times) and lets you inhabit the world and the story. This was a real surprise for me and I’m glad I got to spend time with these characters on what was, it can’t be denied, a very strange day.