Directed by Sean Baker.
Starring Kiki Kitana Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan and Alla Tumanian.
After serving a short stint in prison, trans sex-worker Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is livid to discover that her pimp boyfriend has been unfaithful. With the help of her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), Sin-Dee races across LA on Christmas Eve to seek revenge on the “other girl”.
Rapunzel was confined to a tower for her own protection. Belle remained locked up in a castle to save her father. Sin-Dee Rella was imprisoned for assault while working as a trans sex-worker in LA. As fairy tales go, the story of Sin-Dee and her quest for vengeance isn’t exactly Disney material, but nonetheless, Tangerine is a groundbreaking movie that’s pushed the boundaries of filmmaking more than any other release this year.
On a technical level, Tangerine is astonishing. With just an iPhone camera and some anamorphic adapters in tow, director Sean Baker successfully shot the entire film on location and the results are spectacular. The rough and ready nature of the editing and camera work frenetically captures life as a prostitute on the streets of L.A., yet Tangerine still looks gorgeous throughout. The orange of the winter sun bathes the entire first half of the film in a stunning, iridescent warmth that slowly solidifies into the harsh neon of luminous street lights and flashing store signs.
Considering that it was shot on an iPhone, the widescreen look of Tangerine makes it feel far more cinematic than it has any right to, but that’s not even the film’s biggest selling point. The unique aesthetic of Baker’s latest feature would be irrelevant if the script didn’t work, but thanks to the acting talent on display, Tangerine succeeds on every level. With input from the trans community, Baker’s improvised script depicts a sub-culture rarely seen on screen, humanising the often caricatured sex workers seen in Hollywood ventures.
Of the two leads, Sin-Dee may be more overtly fierce, dragging a girl by her hair across half of L.A. at one point, but Alexandra has her fair share of outlandish moments too. From giving perfectly timed oral sex during a quick car wash to demanding payment from a client who refuses to pay, Alexandra proves that she too isn’t a stranger to drama . One liners such as “You forgot I got a dick too,” and “You didn’t have to Chris Brown the bitch!” sound like they were dreamt up by sitcom writers, but the delivery couldn’t feel more authentic.
Just as Tangerine begins to risk veering towards caricature, Baker intertwines Sin-Dee’s vengeful quest with bittersweet moments of poignance that elevate this low-budget indie above others of its ilk. A third narrative strand that follows an Armenian cab drivers secret life provides a break from the chaotic central friendship and the scene where Alexandra sings mournfully to an empty nightclub is both beautiful and desperately sad all at once.
Tangerine may appear simple, both in terms of narrative and also in the lo-tech way it was filmed, but in reality, Baker’s latest foray into indie filmmaking represents a number of groundbreaking benchmarks. Never before has a professional film been shot using a basic iPhone camera. Never before has the trans community been so directly involved in a high profile project like this. And never before has a Christmas film been so evocative of New Wave classics, capturing the anarchic energy of this unique L.A. sub-culture in a way that holds universal truths regarding friendship and love.
Call it a turning point for the representation of trans people on film. Call it the best Christmas film you’ve seen in years. Hell, call it the start of the Apple New Wave for all we care. Whatever you call it though, just make sure you watch Tangerine as soon as possible. No countdown of 2015’s best films would be complete without it.
Tangerine is available to stream on Netflix now. For more information, visit the official site here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★