Director Sean Baker Screenwriters Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransome Country Of Origin USA Running Time 88 mins
Category: Official Competition
TANGERINE is like a home video of one of those nights where you go for a quiet drink with your friend and end up getting into a fight, getting chucked out, running from the police covered in blood with your weave trailing behind you, smoking a crack pipe behind McDonalds, stealing an old lady’s mobility scooter and eventually waking up in someone’s bed with your whole body covered in bruises and a strange crusty film. It’s a whale of a time but when it’s all over and you’re shivering on the bus home, tears of regret start dribbling down your face.
Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) are two best-friend transgender prostitutes who work Santa Monica Boulevard. Sin-Dee has just got out of prison and is toasting her release with her bestie with a donut when she hears some devastating news: her boyfriend slash pimp has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’ (fish: girl…. a real, biological one).
It takes about five minutes for Sin-Dee and Alexandra to win us over with their quick-witted, give-a-fuck attitude and before we’d even opened the minstrels Sin-Dee was up and out of Donut Time and click-clacking down the dilapidated streets of LA on a path of vengeance. ‘Hell hath no fury’ and all that. Thus unfolds the beautiful, dramatic, entirely captivating joy ride that makes up TANGERINE.
Everything about this film is wickedly pleasurable. To accompany endless moments of drama and debauchery during the boyfriend/bitch hunt is an erratic soundtrack (curated by Matthew Smith) ranging from pumping electronic bass to classical to upbeat Armenian tunes. The latter is heard from within the cab of Razmik (Karren Karagulian), the protagonist of TANGERINE’s side story in which we see the perspective of a regular punter who uses his time with the prostitutes as escapism from his ‘normal’ life.
And what of the most talked about filming choice this year? Shot entirely on three iPhone 5s smart phones, we get to see LA in its true light and not when it’s all shiny and glorified: LA is dirty and full of real characters, not just glossy, tanned, white people who fall in love (see The O.C for that). This relationship between the gritty aesthetics and hilarious, larger-than-life characters allowed all the focus to stay on Sindee, Alexandra and the laugh-out-loud script. Packed from start to finish with razor-sharp dialogue that swings from hilarious to heartbreaking at a queasy pace, this is Sean Baker’s faultless mediation on street life in LA.
But the meaning of the story stretches further than this: although superficial Americana culture is turned up to the max here, the people beneath it all are as human as ever, and the come-downs from manic street life are sad to behold. In the end, trans-prossy culture is not shown to be the ultimate rejection of identity but instead the men sneaking off from their families to pay for their services are ruthlessly called out by Baker. These men are the ones who are lost and searching. Despite moments of raw vulnerability (a wonderful de-wigging scene is significant), S & A know what they want and how they feel about themselves – and each other. Maybe we should all take a leaf out of their book (minus the crack).
The entire film can be summed up perfectly in Sin-Dee’s demure announcement: “I’ve had a very stressful day.” – ‘avent we all Sind?
The Final Word: See this film with your best mate and get horribly drunk afterwards (see above).
TANGERINE is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 9th October.