Lindsay Harvey, from Film London, writes on this week’s Discover Tuesdays film, riotous comedy drama Tangerine (15)
Director: Sean Baker.
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian. USA 2015. 88 mins.
Famously shot entirely on an iPhone 5, Tangerine is something of a cinematic miracle: the film looks completely at home on the big screen, never once betraying its micro-budget.
Director Sean S. Baker’s freewheeling festive comedy takes the audience on a breakneck tour of LA, as we follow a pair of transgender prostitutes tearing a chaotic path through West Hollywood one Christmas Eve.
“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is the film’s opening shriek, as working trans-girls Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) meet up after Sin-Dee’s recent release from prison. It transpires that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a non-trans ‘fish’ while she was incarcerated, and she’s pretty annoyed about it. She vows to track down the philandering couple, which Alex reluctantly agrees to go along with – on the proviso that there will be “no drama” – and the ensuing quest forms the basis for the plot.
Sin-Dee is forced to walk everywhere, in heels, over miles of LA backstreets glowing in the late-December glare, and the camera often struggles to keep up. Her rampage takes her through dingy motels, low-slung strip malls and seedy fast-food joints, leading her to profanity-peppered encounters with a whole host of low lifes.
A secondary plot sees taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) spend his time playing the respectable family man, whilst also getting paid-for relief from Alex in a car wash.
The climactic last half hour takes the form of a good old-fashioned screwball comedy, with the various characters congregating in the donut shop that becomes the unlikely hub for Tangerine’s unfolding uproar. Amidst the flippancy, however, this is a dénouement that allows truths to come to light and relationships to shift and evolve.
The film’s manic energy comes primarily from its effervescent characters: Sin-Dee and Alex’s quick-fire exchanges, laced with gossip and affectionate insults, perfectly showcase genuine chemistry. Their performances are delivered with a raucous authenticity, aided by the naturalistic dialogue.
A pumping, high-octane soundtrack magnifies both the explosive drama and the grubby, widescreen vistas, saturated in the polluted orange neon light that gives the film its name.
Despite the language and the explicit sex, Tangerine is a big-hearted, non-judgmental Christmas film about family and friendships, which is perhaps most memorable for its moments of incredible tenderness.
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