Tangerine

Review by Katherine McLaughlin @Coconutboots

Directed by

Sean Baker

Starring

Karren Karagulian Kitana Kiki Rodriguez Mya Taylor

Anticipation.

Word on the street is it’s as intense as Crank.

Enjoyment.

A dazzling bauble of melodrama and fast paced merriment.

In Retrospect.

It’s a Christmas miracle!

This euphoric night-before-Christmas revenge caper is one of the year’s most purely enjoyable films.

Sean Baker’s fifth feature film opens on two transgender sex workers sharing a doughnut on the morning of Christmas Eve in a shop on the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland in LA. It’s a beautifully judged moment that introduces these tempestuous characters in an intimate and energetic manner as they gossip and talk about their love lives.

It is also the calm before the storm, with Alexandra (Mya Taylor) accidentally revealing to her best friend Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) that her boyfriend and pimp Chester (one of Baker’s regular players James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a white girl. Crazed with jealousy, Sin-Dee goes on a rampage across town in search of Chester and the mystery woman and in doing so delivers gloriously in-your-face moments of pure delight.

The characters talk trash with as much bite as Nicki Minaj, defiantly spitting in the face of good taste. Lines like, “You didn’t have to Chris Brown the girl!” zing from the mouths of Taylor and Rodriguez, providing unadulterated joy in the process. There are shades of John Waters-style debauchery at times and it’s all the more enjoyable for it, but it is also sincere, unguarded and feels lived in.

Like Jennie Livingston’s New York-set documentary about the art of Vogueing, Paris Is Burning, it bristles with an animated energy but is also rooted in reality. Mya lives close by to the neighbourhood where the film is shot and told Baker stories about the illegal activity in the area and Kiki was a trans mentor. They are both transgender people.

Much has been made of the fact that Baker shot his film on three iPhone 5s, using a clip on anamorphic lens – an impressive feat considering how gorgeous the final product is. Baker glides his camera across the sun-smeared vista of Hollywood at Christmas time, turning the grime and dust into something sparkly and wondrous. And as seen in his previous work, Baker has a way of directing his actors that gets the best out of them. He ekes every last ounce of comedy and dramatic value out of their physical performances using the superb soundtrack to parallel emotion.

A vengeful Sin-Dee struts along to aggressive Jersey Club anthems and the next moment Alexandra regales her colourful voyage to Beethoven’s ‘Coriolan Overture’ while preparing for a festive blow job in a car wash. There are bursts of intense brutality but ultimately this a vibrant and often hilarious slice of life grounded by a friendship formed on the streets.

There’s no preaching and there’s no big moral conclusion, this is simply a well-crafted story penned by Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch and featuring two leads who whip up delicious moments of frenzy and melancholy that resonate deeply as they hurtle across the finish line to a claustrophobic and confrontational climax. There’s so much screeching melodrama crammed in to its 88-minute runtime that it feels like it’s over as quickly as it started. Tangerine is an example of low-budget filmmaking at its best, and it exists as living proof that there is really no excuse to not be making movies if youʼve got a smartphone in your pocket.

Published 12 Nov 2015

Anticipation.

Word on the street is it’s as intense as Crank.

Enjoyment.

A dazzling bauble of melodrama and fast paced merriment.

In Retrospect.

It’s a Christmas miracle!

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