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New Release Review - TANGERINE

On Christmas Eve, a trans prostitute traverses Los Angeles in search of her cheating boyfriend/pimp.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Sean Baker

Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O'Hagan, James Ransone, Clu Gulager


"Most great comedies contain a layer of melancholy, and without shoving it down our throats Tangerine never loses sight of the sad truth of its protagonists' dire situation. We grow so fond of Sin-Dee and Alexandra that by the end of the movie we have an almost paternal attachment to the pair, making a late incident of intolerance absolutely tear-jerking."





There's a brief shot in Sean Baker's dazzling Tangerine that follows one of its protagonists as she walks over a row of stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. In its commendably unassuming manner, the film doesn't call attention to it, but it's an image that's emblematic of Baker's movie, a project a million miles away from contemporary Hollywood in both its production methods and its marginalised characters, yet shot and set in the heart of the commercial filmmaking hub.
Baker's movie takes place over Christmas Eve, though with this being sun-soaked Los Angeles, it takes the occasional appearance of a Christmas tree to remind us of the date. Trans prostitute Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just returned to the streets after a month long stint in the slammer for holding drugs belonging to her pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransone, the closest the movie has to a recognisable mainstream star). Hooking up with her best friend and fellow street worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor), Sin-Dee learns that Chester has been cheating on her with another of his girls. Fuelled by rage, Sin-Dee sets off on a quest to find both Chester and his new lover. Meanwhile, Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian), cruises the streets while hiding a secret from his family.
There are three reasons Tangerine has received a level of attention that usually eludes indie productions of this scale. Firstly, there's the casting of actual trans women in the lead roles (take that Danish Girl). Secondly, Baker shot his movie using iPhones. Thirdly, it's a fantastic movie! Either of the first two would make Tangerine stand out, but Baker has given us a reluctantly revolutionary movie. It would be all too easy to accuse Baker of seeking attention by making his protagonists trans women, but nothing in the movie justifies such an accusation. Baker clearly has an affection for his characters, and so will you. Alexandra and Sin-Dee are as charming a screen pair as you could hope to find.
Sin-Dee is, as one other character labels her, a trainwreck, but Alexandra is the complete opposite; she's got her act together, and in a more accommodating world you could imagine her running a successful business. Seeing an intelligent and savvy person forced to work the streets makes your blood boil, but the film never goes out of its way to deliver any messages. Instead it simply presents us with characters attempting to make the most of lives limited by societal prejudice. Revolutionary it may be, but Tangerine is a classical narrative comedy, one Frank Capra and Preston Sturges would be proud of. Sin-Dee and Alexandra are hilarious, and Rodriguez and Taylor display crack comic timing in their interactions with each other and the various characters they encounter throughout the day.
Most great comedies contain a layer of melancholy, and without shoving it down our throats Tangerine never loses sight of the sad truth of its protagonists' dire situation. We grow so fond of Sin-Dee and Alexandra that by the end of the movie we have an almost paternal attachment to the pair, making a late incident of intolerance absolutely tear-jerking. Thankfully, in the most heart-warming final image you'll witness all year, Baker sends us out on a hopeful note, a suggestion that despite the societal shackles that bind them, Sin-Dee and Alexandra will make out okay. The awful truth is, in terms of their careers, I'm not sure the outstanding actors who portray them can be so hopeful in our hostile climate.
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