Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone, Alla Tumanian, Luiza Nersisyan, Karren Karagulian.
THE PLOT: Two trans women, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) meet at their old haunt Donut Time, after Sin-Dee is released from prison. As they catch up, Alexandra accidentally reveals that Sin-Dee’s pimp and boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) was sleeping with a ‘fish’ woman while she was away. This sends Sin-Dee on a rampage through LA on Christmas Eve, as she tries to track down the people she believes have wronged her.
THE VERDICT: There has been plenty of talk about ‘Tangerine’; mainly because it was shot on three iPhone 5s phones in a truly independent production. This is not why ‘Tangerine’ should be talked about however, the film is a fascinating, funny and often tragic slice of life at a highly emotional time in LA, and one that shines a light on a world that is all too often hidden in shadows.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are both fantastic in the lead roles of ‘Tangerine’. Both are transgender women, and both have little if any previous acting experience. The relationship between the two characters feels real and complex, as all long-standing relationships are, and both actresses are engaging enough to hold their own on screen. Both actresses balance humour and introspection well, and allow the audience to understand the depth of emotion that is ever present in their lives. The rest of the cast, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone, Alla Tumanian, Luiza Nersisyan, do well with their parts, and Karren Karagulian standing out as an immigrant taxi driver whose relationship with these working women is deeper than it seems at first glance.
Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch’s screenplay has a manic, open feel to it. The film buzzes with energy, and the exchanges between the women on the streets is filled with quickfire wit, and raw emotion. There are times where the audience may find themselves wishing these Trans characters were portrayed as anything other than ‘working girls’, but it becomes clear that these women are strong and self sufficient, and choose to make their living in the oldest profession in the world.
Director Sean Baker allows the audience to get to know Alexandra and Sin-Dee, to learn about them, and to learn that these are rounded and warm characters. We may not ever feel we would make these decisions ourselves, but we can understand why these characters’ motivations. The film is full of energy and sparkle and, although some family home scenes drag the pace down slightly, and we may not always quite understand what all this manic movement is leading to, when the worlds of the film collide, it is engaging and packs a strong emotional punch.
In all, ‘Tangerine’ is fresh, engaging and strong. The film feels special – like Kevin Smith’s first film ‘Clerks’ – and Rodriguez and Taylor are truly special in the leading roles. That said, the pacing struggles from time to time, and there is sometimes a scattered feel to the film, but when ‘Tangerine’ comes back together, it is a startlingly honest and fresh piece of work that is both hilarious and heartfelt.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Hilarious & heartfelt
  • filmbuff2011

    Tangerine is a gloriously trashy tale of L.A. street life on one particularly troublesome Christmas Eve. Transgender prostitute Sin-Dee Rella (LOL) (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) meets up at key hang-out Donut Time with her BFF Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who also works in the ‘trade’. Sin-Dee is just out of 28 days in the slammer and Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’. Initially enraged, she promises Alexandra that there will be no drama, so they roam the streets looking first for the white fish and then Chester. Much drama, screaming, arguing and pulling ensues. Meanwhile, lonely Albanian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) runs into these streetwalkers throughout the day, but has a secret of his own that he’s keeping from his doting family… With Steve Jobs just out in cinemas, it’s a testament to Apple’s technology that Tangerine is the first film shot using just three iPhone 5s smartphones, an anamorphic widescreen clip-on lens and an $8 camera app. The future of low-budget film-making is already in your hands. You wouldn’t know it – it looks reasonably good projected on a cinema screen, though obviously not as refined as a Red Epic camera. Shot by Radium Cheung and director Sean Baker, they capture that sun-burnt L.A. look and those famous golden-brown sunsets. There’s also a practical intimacy to using this set-up, in getting right into the faces of these constantly bickering characters. Beyond the technological aspect, this is a surprisingly sweet and funny story of friendship, whatever the gender of these characters. Look past the silly wigs and heightened voices and these are clearly-defined characters who are caught in their own environmental traps, confined to a limited space of L.A.’s infamously colourful street life. The performances are pretty good – Rodriguez and Taylor were already friends and Taylor drew from her own experiences as a prostitute in Hollywood. There’s an undeniable warmth to their scenes. Baker gradually builds things up to a major confrontation at Donut Time, but the end result is actually less bitter than you might imagine. There’s a shared bond between all these dubious characters that transcends differences of opinion. Reminiscent of earlier, better Kevin Smith, Tangerine is one of those films that you really need to discover on its own merits. Very possibly one of the indie highlights of the year. ****

  • Randy

    An engrossing indie about the lives and friendship of two transgender prostitutes on Sunset Strip over Christmas. Definitely an alternative to the usual holiday fare, but the better for it. The leading (transgender) women show great skill in being very natural. Their characters are funny and intriguing women, fighting a difficult battle for their place in the world, which is a reality for many (especially transgender) women. They’re also really funny, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Shooting the film on iPhones added immediacy and intimacy to the film and allowed to be made on a minuscule budget. While many indie movies feel to self-important and miss the mark, this one is a stunning tour de force which will leave you in stitches and prompt substantial questions and discussions afterwards. It’s a story that needs to be told, and what a better way to tell it.