Tangerine is a bold, raw, and deeply felt independent film from director and co-writer Sean S. Baker; it’s the first film I’ve seen of his and now I eagerly anticipate his next move as a filmmaker.
This is the often hysterical, often draining story of two African-American transgender prostitutes, played with loud charm by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, living VERY rough-and-tumble existences on the dangerous and dirty streets of Los Angeles. The believability factor of this project lies in the fact that the lead actresses, both of whom had zero major acting experience in the past, were former sex workers; this is their territory and they both explode off the screen in this abrasive and frequently uproarious movie.
I can’t stress how unexpectedly hilarious I found large portions of this vibrant movie to be — there’s a direct honesty to almost every single scene, and while this is a world that I know nothing about on a personal level, you can’t help but get wrapped up in this whirlwind of people and places and confrontations and life moments; sometimes you don’t need to relate to the on-screen characters in order to empathize and sympathize with them.
Yes, there’s a plot, a rather traditional one at its core, but what makes this movie so fresh and exciting are the progressive aesthetic decisions, the progressive social values, and the earned sweetness of the rather touching final moment. Co-produced by the Duplass brothers (do these guys ever sleep?!), this has the spontaneous feel of their best work, while much has been made of Baker’s interesting stylistic decision to shoot the entire film on a series of iphones; the 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography is extremely impressive and expressive for such a shoe-string approach to filmmaking. Tangerine is one of the year’s most interesting and unique films, and it’s currently streaming on Netflix for those who are interested.
Written by Nick Clement