dir. Sean Baker
written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Kargulian, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone
3.5 out of 4 stars
For a movie completely filmed on an iPhone, and as far as I know, the first full length movie to do so with distribution, Tangerine is an original spectacle of independent filmmaking. Following her release from a month long prison stay, trans prosititute Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) discovers from her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Sin-Dee proceeds on a Christmas Eve maelstrom to locate her unfaithful pimp/lover and the woman he’s been fucking.
Tangerine is a bucket of fun and like nothing I’ve seen before. Using the gritty landscapes of West Hollywood and the lower than normal resolution on the iPhone, the audience enters the none too stable environment of the chaotic Sin-Dee and the more measured Alexandra. Inhabiting a rough, illegal world into which their lives have landed them, the movie is in constant flux, dragging both women into the fray where they feel all too comfortable and disorganized in their daily dealings. Intersperse focus on one immigrant client of theirs, and we develop a full, hectic picture of the daily lives of these colorful, dare I say flourescent characters.
Director Sean Baker paired again with screenwriter Chris Bergoch to follow up their 2012 film Starlet with this chaotic romp. Acquiring an intimacy with their ever mobile leading ladies, the movie felt like bowling through a glittery underworld. Frantic music and pointed silence framed the ladies as they maneuvered through their goals, self serving all the way. Just when the atmosphere appeared too serious, drama would ensue and a camp showdown filled the sun drenched December.
Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor own the movie. Rodriguez, the arguable lead, has a nasal intensity unbeknownst to those unfamiliar with sassy Latina trans prostitutes. Landing each of her bitchy comments and searing jabs, Kitana has the unwashed perfection of a woman who has lived her part. As far as screen presence, Mya Taylor holds the torch on natural brilliance. Particularly in her sparsely populated one woman show, Mya possesses blind confidence in her role as a would-be lounge singer. Besides nailing the comedic bits, each of her lines lands with a practiced voice ready to challenge Laverne Cox for the limited trans woman of color roles.
Already garnering end of the year praises, Tangerine is poised to be a landmark for independent filmmakers. Living in each pocket can be a gateway to one’s own filmmaking career opening the doors for those unlucky enough to lack HD equipment to create original content such as this. Bringing unfamiliar landscapes to the screen, theatergoers can be broken from the too white and too mundane expeditions we find at the cinemas and grant the opportunity for this generation’s John Cassavetes’s and Robert Altmans to develop their visions for modern audiences.