Sean S. Baker’s (Starlet) latest film gained much press following its Sundance premiere for famously being shot entirely on an iPhone 5, and though Tangerine is certainly a testament to new-age, low-fi filmmaking techniques, it’s also a riotous example of the sort of film John Waters might’ve started out with if he grew up in the smartphone generation.
On Christmas Eve, trans female sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is fresh out of prison, when she learns from her similarly trans colleague Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her during her time inside. The two then trawl across Los Angeles as Sin-Dee chases down her unfaithful partner, all while Alexandra tries to keep the lid on her scarcely-contained rage, and this is intercut with the daily life of Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver who goes on a number of jobs in order to pay for services from the girls.
Better than anything else, Baker’s film evokes a keen sense of place; sun-soaked California has rarely felt so authentically grimy, with the use of camera-phones no doubt cutting down on the stilting effect that a bulky camera crew can have when slice-of-life-cinema is concerned.
The real treat, though, is the two leads, who transcend any claims of pat tokenism and deliver performances of heart and hilarity in equal measure; you may not grow to like them over the course of the film, but at least appreciate their day-to-day struggle. The banter feels thoroughly plausible and, in a time where movies about trans-persons so often defer to non-trans Hollywood A-listers, it’s nothing if not refreshing.
It may repeat itself a little much for a mere 88-minute movie and audiences less-enamoured with the production history may find the cinematography a little on the grubby side, but it’s hard not to respect what Baker has pulled off on a shoestring budget, all the more so because it comes accompanied with an eclectic soundtrack to boot.
It’s the most unconventional of Christmas films and you’ll certainly want to shower when it’s all said and done, but Tangerine is an entertaining, if slight, drama that throws the gauntlet down to other emerging filmmakers.
Tangerine is available now on VOD