In its simple essence, Tangerine is a buddy chase film with a lot of laughs and a lot of heart. And a fair share of violence and drug use. And prostitutes. Transgender prostitutes. On Christmas Eve.
One of the most pronounced and talked about elements of Tangerine is its use of iPhones instead of traditional cameras. If this makes you worry for it’s quality, you’d be forgiven. Any film that is shot entirely on iPhone 5s runs the risk of venturing into the land of gimmickry, where meaningful storytelling and character development is cheapened or even worse, non existent. But even though Tangerine was shot on three iphones and has a visual production quality that looks like the budget could have been no more than a fiver, it’s rough aesthetic adds an undeniably visceral quality that certainly aids the film’s tone and atmosphere. This is an incredibly important thing, as Tangerine has a helluva lot of atmosphere – but not an awful lot of plot.
Two transgender sex workers, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), are sitting in a Los Angeles fast-food joint just after Sin-Dee has been released from prison. When Alexandra casually mentions that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend has cheated on her while she’s been locked up, Sin-Dee goes stalking around town looking for the woman and the man that gone done her wrong. That’s essentially it. This is certainly not a criticism of the film, simply acknowledgement of fact. A criticism of the film would be that the feature is quite raw, in a filmmaking sense. There is undoubtedly a reality tv vibe to the first half of the film: both in acting and dialogue. The cab scenes that litter the early parts of Tangerine, though centering on a character whose importance is explored later on, feel unnecessary and amateur in their execution. The movies heart and poignancy certainly takes time to really reveal themselves. However when they do, it’s worth it.
When it gets those kinks out of it’s system, New York filmmaker Sean Baker’s project is genuinely funny and moving. It’s humour is perhaps its greatest strength – it produces surprisingly good laugh out loud moments. The movie has a touching message but to its credit never veers into being preachy or judgemental. It simply is interested in it’s characters and their story.
Tangerine is an unequivocally 2015 film, in it’s executions and in it’s narrative. How often have you heard people say there’s nothing new happening in cinema? Tangerine is a breath of fresh air and an example of the kind of film movie going audiences should be expecting from this point on. Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s chase becomes symbolic of an entire community: a violent community where “bitch” is used as a form of punctuation to express any given emotion and problems are resolved by screaming in public, but a community all the same. By time the story comes to a conclusion and our two anti-heroines are sitting in a launderette sharing a wig, the film’s inherent poignancy comes to the fore.