The streets are hard for a girl out there.
Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a Trans who just finished her short stay in prison and automatically, wants to find out just what her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransome) has been up to and who he’s been up to it with. Issue is, she doesn’t have a working-phone to call him with, nor does she have any clear way of finding him on the gritty, but bright streets of Los Angeles. That’s why she enlists the help of her best friend, fellow prostitute, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who doesn’t want to be apart of any of this drama, but clearly, doesn’t have much else to do except jerk dudes off in the front seats of cars for a couple of bucks. While this adventure is taking place, another one is occurring with local cab-driver Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), who, despite being married with a wife, actually prefers the company of trans prostitutes, something his mother-in-law is suspicious about and wants to catch him in the act of doing. This is all, of course, happening on Christmas Eve, where joys may be merry, but for the most part, everybody’s just trying to live and survive another holiday season.
Co-writer/director Sean Baker likes to focus on the smaller parts of the Earth that we don’t necessarily pay attention to. With Starlet, his last feature flick, Baker shined his lens on a relationship between an 80-year-old woman and a small-time, young porn star. With Tangerine, Baker is focusing on the lives of two trans prostitutes – both of whom, honestly, we’d never see in a mainstream, big-budgeted flick because, well, producers get scared of that and would much rather focus on white people, doing white things, so that other white people can go out and watch these white people do these white things. However, as snobby as I may sound, Baker actually isn’t; instead of making it seem like he’s trying to get a point across about the people he focuses on in his movies, he actually seems invested in where these character’s lives go and just how easy they are to relate to, regardless of what gender, race, or sexual preference you are.
And that’s one of the main reasons why Tangerine works as well as it should.
Not only does Baker keep things moving with this story at a fine pace to where we get to know everything about these characters from the very beginning, so that the reasons for why they act the way they do throughout the movie makes sense, but also gets us wrapped up in the excitement of this adventure they’re having as well. Baker infamously filmed all of Tangerine on an iPhone and while it may seem like a unnecessary gimmick, sooner or later, you totally forget about it and, if anything, realize that it’s perfect for capturing L.A. and these characters as they roam about the streets of it. There’s a certain tone that an iPhone catches, that most other digital cameras can’t, which allows for us to feel as if we’re not only right there with Sin-Dee and Alexandra, but feeling and smelling everything, too.
If anything, Baker’s success with filming Tangerine the way he wanted to, shows that up-and-coming film makers can probably do the same and make their own film. Who says they need a fancy, schmancy camera to do it with?
They can just reach in their pockets, after all!
But speaking of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, both Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are quite solid here, which probably has to due with the fact that they’re actual trans actors, playing trans characters. This may not seem like much, but considering that every movie nowadays that seems to tackle the subject of trans-sexuality and what it actually means to be “trans”, they cast a well-known, straight celebrity in the role and act as if said celebrity is really gritting their teeth by getting deep, down and dirty with such a role like that. Here though, Baker wisely makes the decision of having Rodriguez and Taylor portray these characters and it helps add another sense of realism to a movie that’s already sweating in it.
Also, too, both have great chemistry that clearly seems to transcend well onto their characters, as both even each other out in surprising, but sweet ways. Sin-Dee is a bit reckless, dramatic and over-the-top with her emotions, whereas Alexandra is more reserved and about keeping her reckless feelings to herself. Watching these two pal around and walk throughout the grimy streets of L.A. is entertaining, especially since both actually seem like best pals in real life and not just two people forced to work together because they filled a certain look or image.
The only issue that I have with Tangerine has nothing to do with either Rodriguez or Taylor, but instead, with the supporting character who constantly jumps in every so often – Mickey O’Hagan’s Dinah.
Nothing against O’Hagan as I think he’s quite solid in a role that seems like it wants to be much more than just a subplot, but his role could have easily been taken out of this completely and Tangerine would have probably worked fine. It’s understandable what Baker is trying to do with this Dinah character from the very start, but after awhile, once he breaks apart some real exciting moments that push the story forward, it becomes clear that he’s just getting in the way of what could be a much more intimate story. But because Dinah exists in this story and is given so much focus, he ruins a lot of the swiftness and fast-pace that both Sin-Dee and Mya seem to really bring here. Once again, not saying that O’Hagan is bad here, or even that his character is given bad treatment – it’s just that maybe he doesn’t need to be here at all.
Which is a shame because really, Tangerine is all about Sin-Dee and Mya, as well as it should be.
Consensus: Despite an odd bit of plotting from Sean Baker, Tangerine still works as an entertaining, quick romp of a ride with two characters who, quite frankly, we don’t get to see a whole lot of focus on in movies.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire