When transgender prostitute Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is released from prison she leans straight away from her best friend and collegue Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her… with a female.
This starts Sin-Dee on a mission across the grimy suburbs of Los Angeles as she tries to find Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) and make her pay. Meanwhile, a taxi driver named Razmik (Karren Karagulien) is cruising the streets trying to find some transsexual fun while Alexandra is also trying to get all her friends together so they can come and watch her first performance as a singer.
There is no doubt that Tangerine has set the indie film world alight. The film was the buzz at Sundance this year and that has resulted in this becoming the must see indie film of 2015. Having said that though the film also has its doubters, those that wonder can a film that was entirely shot on iPhones be worth watching? Then there are even those who are suggesting that Tangerine is little more than an advertising scoop for Apple trying to push just how good the cameras are on an iPhone.
Well doubters it is time for a little hush. While the idea of Apple wanting to use a film to promote their product is probably one that they have thought about a few times, it is highly unlikely they would have done so using a film that looks like Larry Clark has been set loose amongst L.A.’s transgender population. No this film is very much the brainchild of an intelligent indie filmmaker, Sean Baker, and cudos needs to be sent his way for thinking of such an unique way to make the film that he has created. The film does have some weaknesses but certainly not enough to make this a film you don’t want to watch.
The big question most people will be asking is how does a film shot on iPhones actually look? Well to be honest it doesn’t look any different to any other film you would see filmed digitally these days. The picture is crisp and the iPhone actually has its advantage as it allows Baker to get right up close and personal with his characters even in tight spots such as a car going through a carwash. As a result the audience certainly feels like they are part of the drama throughout the film.
The biggest weakness for Tangerine is the Baker doesn’t seem to know how to pace his dramatic moments. Early on everything is rush, rush, rush with the Sin-Dee Rella storyline and we only get glimpses of the stories revolving around Razmik and Alexandra. Then when the Sin-Dee story starts to run out of gas and it feels like Baker is just filling in time showing shots of her at bus stops etc the Razmik storyline picks up dramatically and the audience feels like they want to stay with it but instead they are made watch the ‘filler’ shots. The most disappointing part of the film though is the fact that you don’t really feel like Alexandra’s story is ever looked at as deeply as it should have been.
Still Tangerine has a lot of plusses working for it as well. Baker and his cast have kept this film so natural it does feel like you are watching a docco at times. Plus the Larry Clark reference earlier on was not a mistake, Tangerine feels like the kind of film that Clark was making early on his career – films like Kids and Bully. Tangerine isn’t just gritty it shows what life is like for a transsexual prostitute from giving oral sex in cars to having urine thrown on them… the film certainly doesn’t glam up the lifestyle. Baker also allows the film to explore topics such as why Sin-Dee is hurt even more by the fact that Chester cheated with a female, while one of the most powerful scenes of the film is when Razmik picks up a female mistakenly thinking she is a transsexual. Scenes such as this, plus the scene where all the characters come together in one place are what Tangerine makes memorable and shows that the film is more than just a gimmick.
Tangerine is not a film that is going to be everybody’s cup-of-tea. Some of the topics explored in this film are things that some people don’t want to be exposed to… and that’s okay. But at the end of the day Tangerine deserves more credit than just ‘good for a film shot on a phone’ because this is a film that has some wonderful acting performances and some good directing that makes this seem like one of the most natural films you will see this year.
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulien, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone
Running Time: 88 mins
Release Date: TBA