The idea of filming a movie entirely on iPhone 5s smartphones might sound like an ambitious and risky concept – and it is. However, when you have a script filled with heart and humour and the graceful directorial talents of Sean S. Baker, this feat is very much achievable.
Tangerine is a film cinephiles everywhere have heard of, whether for its honest and entertaining storyline, inclusion of trans actresses or its orange- and purple-saturated visual style. But what really sticks after seeing the film is the feeling that Tangerine MUST be recognised across the board come awards season next year.
Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, the film follows a day and night in the life of two best friends (both trans women and sex workers) living in Hollywood. Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriquez) is fresh out of a 28-day stint in prison when her friend Alexandra (Taylor) reveals that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her with a cis woman. Furious and eager for revenge, Sin-Dee begins tearing through the neighbourhood to find them both.
Funny, smart and heartbreaking, Tangerine’s treatment of its subjects is a revelation in an industry that’s only just starting to tell the all-important stories of trans people. The key word here is ‘people’, and the film’s writers Baker and Chris Bergoch do right but placing focus on the main characters’ motivations, rather than the fact that they are trans women.
Something must be said for the fact that Sin-Dee and Alexandra are played by real trans women, both of whom are a breath of fresh air. Kitana Kiki Rodriquez is fierce and hilarious as the vengeful Sin-Dee, who never loses that spark that makes her so fun to watch. Mya Taylor plays Sin-Dee’s friend Alexandra, and in my opinion is the film’s breakout star. While trying to bring her furious friend down a notch or two, Alexandra spends the film trying to recruit acquaintances to come see her perform that night. It’s so important to see that Alexandra has dreams (and the talent to back it) that are so far from her reality, a truth that couldn’t be more real for Taylor, who in real life has stated how her being trans has previously prevented her from employment opportunities outside of prostitution. The two women are brilliant and vibrant from beginning to end, and a few acting noms should be heading their way if all is right with the world.
While the journeys of Sin-Dee and Alexandra anchor the film, the secondary story wonderfully balances the ferociously fun main action. Karren Karaguilian plays Razmik, an Armenian cab driver seemingly addicted to the company of the trans sex workers in Hollywood. His story, told without a hint of judgement, offers a break from Sin-Dee’s rampage as we find him dealing with customers, while trying to fit in a bit of private pleasure time.
What truly fascinated me about Tangerine was its beautiful overall look. Painted with orange and purple hues, Hollywood has never looked so strangely majestic. What Baker and his team have managed to achieve will no doubt exceed expectations, and hopefully inspire others to tell more diverse stories this way.