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.

4 Responses to “0407 | Tangerine”

  1. Tom

    Great write-up for a film I have yet to see. I’m more curious about the content than I am about the gimmick of it being a film shot on iPhone. I guess ‘gimmick’ is a bit harsh, but sometimes these things kind of feel gimmicky if they’re not played out well. Doesn’t sound like that’s the case here though. This totally would’ve been high on my priority list had I gotten to get to Sundance this year. Some day, I hope. 😉

    • Stu

      Thanks very much Tom. The phone thing has certainly ensured more interest in this than it probably would have got otherwise, so I’m glad you’re more interested in the content!


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