On one fateful Christmas Eve, two trans-woman sex workers go all around LA, one looking for a “fish” who had sex with her pimp/boyfriend, the other trying to keep her friend in line.
The film, all shot on an iPhone 5s, on paper sounds like a hot mess, but in reality is a raw rapid fire buddy comedy that entrances you from the very first frame.
Directed by Sean Baker, the film follows two sex workers, Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra, played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor respectively, on Christmas Eve in Tinseltown. Sin-Dee being just released from a 28 day prison sentence, learns that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her, thus, sets out in a hot fury of rage to get vengeance with Alexandra reluctantly tagging along.
Aside from these heroines, the film also follows Razmik, an Armenian taxi driver with a taste for trans-prostitutes. The first third of the movie follows his mundane customers, but then goes follows his hunt to get 80$ worth of pleasure from his favorite hooker.
The film has a somewhat spontaneous and erratic script, blasting back and forth from various motels and corner stores, with run-ins from the cops to dragging white “fishes” across town.
But through its rapid fire dialogue and Instagram filter lens, the film manages to entrance you. Never in your life do you think you’d watch a film about prostitutes running across Tinseltown, much less love it.
The majority of films that receive great praise can all be grouped into the same “straight,” “white,” and “male-oriented” categories. When black people are depicted, it’s usually as slaves, criminals, or as a white person’s friend. When gay people are depicted, they usually end in sorrow or suffer throughout the film.
Tangerine doesn’t necessarily help break the typical sex worker stereotype, but it does add a level of depth that is rarely seen on camera.
The main characters don’t hate themselves, the film isn’t a film about character development or the hardships of prostitution. The film is more buddy comedy and heartwarming than moving and dramatic, which is why the film is so important.
All too commonly, films about lgbt people or themes are real downers. The most famous gay film, Brokeback Mountain, is such a depressing and sad film. The main characters hate themselves and spend the entire film loathing themselves.
When minorities want representation, it’s not as the scum of society. True representation is more than just being on screen, it’s playing roles that aren’t stereotypes. Black people want to play more than criminals. Women want to play more than girlfriends. Gay people want to play more than the child who is having family problems.
That’s why Tangerine is beautiful. The film defies all rules and expectations of what a good film is. The two main girls aren’t suffering because they are transgender. They aren’t being driven by some political motive to make transgender issues. The film is simply a film about two girls on a mission.
Being shot on an iPhone gives the film a realistic feeling that makes it feel like this could totally happen. The low-key feeling of the movie invites you in on their day long adventure.
The combination of trap music, rapid fire dialogue, and street shots of downtown LA ultimately heighten the two main actresses experience and make for a fast-paced and fun film.
However, it’s the slower moments that truly make the film extraordinary. While there are only really two slower moments in the film, they are by-far the most memorable.
The first is Alexandra’s show at the bar. Prior to the scene, she is handing out flyers to her performance to her fellow prostitutes. When the time for the show comes, her friend, Sin-dee is the only one who shows up. As Alexandra sings “Toyland” it flashes from Sin-dee to close-ups of her singing. The moment is one of the only tender and sweet moments (save for the ending) in a fast-paced movie.
The other spectacular moment is the final scene. (Spoilers ahead) In the final moment of the film, Sin-dee finds out that while she was in prison, her best friends Alexandra slept with her fiancé, and walks off in a fit of rage. As a soft piano plays, the final shots follow the supporting characters home as Alexandra pleads to Sin-dee to forgive her.
After a brief and heated exchange, Sin-dee goes up to a possible customer and gets a cup of urine thrown in her face. This forces the two heroines to get together in a laundromat. Then in a powerful moment, Alexandra takes off her wig and gives it to Sin-dee and they hold hands.
The film is a wonderful tale of friendship in a rarely seen world, and is a truly great film and helps opens the viewer’s eyes to their world.