Sean S. Baker’s indie feature Tangerine has received plenty of attention this year, partly because it was shot entirely with iPhones, and although it isn’t the first phone-only release it’s probably the most high profile to date, enjoying plenty of praise since debuting at Sundance earlier this year. It’s a ‘day in the life’ picture that mainly follows two transgender sex workers – Alexandra, played by Mya Taylor, and Sin-Dee, played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez – around the streets of West Hollywood on Christmas Eve as Sin-Dee searches for her cheating pimp and boyfriend (played by David Simon favourite James Ransone, who appeared in The Wire, Treme and Generation Kill). Meanwhile a parallel plot follows the working day and evening of an Armenian taxi driver named Ramzik (Karren Karagulian), who crosses paths with the hookers on a couple of occasions. The action mainly takes place on the sidewalks or in a variety of donut shops, trans-friendly bars, back alleys and car parks, and the film crackles with the energy and buzz of the seedy side of the street. Both Alexandra and Sin-Dee are larger than life and sharp of tongue, and Sin-Dee in particular seems to create chaos wherever she goes, at one point dragging a female love rival by her hair out of a brothel, along the street, onto a bus and into a bar without anyone really daring to bat so much as an eyelid.
It’s a colourful film, all blue skies and brightly-painted building exteriors, and the saturation levels have seemingly been increased during post production. It’s also consistently funny, and the non-professional and professional actors gel fairly well, with the unobtrusive nature of the camera undoubtedly helping the less-experienced to relax. Though short, coming in at less than an hour-and-a-half, I must admit I began to tire of the constant rows and screaming matches that takes place. At least Ramzik’s scenes, which appear every now and again, offer a degree of quiet respite in the early part of the film; later on we see Alexandra sing live in a bar, which also takes things down a notch, and is as compelling as it is understated. It’s during these moments that the screenplay really starts to get under the skin of its characters, so it’s a shame that they almost get lost amidst all the mayhem. Underneath all of the drama lies a simple message about friendship and loyalty, and the film’s bittersweet ending is quite moving, with one character left out in the cold and another two reconciling in a launderette (which is about the least Christmassy establishment you can imagine). Baker and fellow cinematographer Radium Cheung – who capture a series of backgrounds during an end coda to remind us of the time of year – have made an impressive low-budget feature, and their busy camerawork further manages to capture the rhythm of the street.
Directed by: Sean S. Baker.
Written by: Sean S. Baker, Chris Bergoch.
Starring: Kitani Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagen, James Ransone.
Cinematography: Sean S. Baker, Radium Cheung.
Editing: Sean S. Baker.
Running Time: 87 minutes.