Tangerine full movie review - A film that doesn't find it necessary to force judgment on its characters
If the noteworthy Oscar push for Tangerine's two transgender leads to be recognized by the Academy was the sole point of originality for the film, it'd still be a pretty worth
y discussion piece, but likely not a significant one after next year's Oscars pass (let's not kid, the nominations for these respective actresses are still a longshot). But Tangerine has a plethora of significant and eye-opening attributes than its unflinching casting decisions, and that's an aesthetic and feel that doesn't insist upon itself nor manipulate the unapologetic characters it is profiling. Co-writer/director Sean Baker respects his subjects enough to allow them room to breathe in a film that is so free and unrestricted, its setting might as well be the continental United States rather than the streets of Hollywood.
The film follows a slew of lonely, misunderstood, and even some contemptible and wretched characters on Christmas Eve, particularly two transgender female prostitutes, Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sin-Dee has just finished serving a nearly month-long jail sentence only to learn from Alexandra that her pimp Chester (James Ransone, the commendable character actor from Sinister 2 I praised so heavily) has been cheating on her with a straight female named Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan). This entire conversation takes place in Donut Time, a well-known, local doughnut shop in Hollywood, which becomes a pivotal location for the beginning and ending of Tangerine. Upon hearing such news, Sin-Dee storms out of Donut Time to find Chester, while Alexandra prepares for her one-woman show in West Hollywood, and Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver, earns money from fares all around the greater Los Angeles area to raise money for both women.
Tangerine is such a liberating film, unchained and unshackled from the confines of gender, sexual, and racial prejudice by just being so free-form and accepting of what its characters can do and say. Sin-Dee and Alexandra are two of the feistiest and sassiest ladies I've seen on film all year; it's as if they were sucked out of a relatively tame John Waters film and plunged into a movie that emphasized style over shock. Probably the best thing about Tangerine, however, is its unwillingness to force any kind of judgment or revelation on its characters. In film, and society above all, people seem to be afraid of brazen characters; God-forbid a man smoke cigarettes on a regular basis, or drink alcohol every day yet harms nobody but himself in the process, or even hold opinions separate from the contemporary zeitgeist. Conventional Hollywood cinema would be taking such a reckless grouch and attempting to hamfist him into a more upstanding formula, or at least force him to recognize the ill of his ways and that he is indeed different and more eclectic than the other souls around him.
Conventional Hollywood cinema would probably force Sin-Dee and Alexandra to clean up their act, change their names, and get real jobs that would provide more stability and security to their lives. Perhaps when the characters get older, that prospect would be more feasible, but right now, they are not interested in that and Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch certainly aren't going to force them into anything the characters wouldn't allow themselves to be forced into. Even the way Baker chooses to shoot Tangerine should make this evident; notice how Baker's camera - which is really a phone, being that he used three different iPhone 5s smartphones with external microphones to shoot the film due to a strained budget - does more than capture and showcase Sin-Dee and Alexandra, but really follows their every move. Baker lingers with medium length tracking and Steadicam shots on the backs of Sin-Dee and Alexandra when they talk (which usually corresponds with fast-paced walking down the streets of Hollywood), as if they are TMZ or the paparazzi. On some occasions, when Baker decides to sweep around and capture their facial expressions, Baker has the subjects of the screen present from the left or right corner of the shot, resulting in a rare level of acute intimacy while observing these characters.
If absolutely nothing else, the kind of independence asserted by Baker in the filmmaking process is akin to the kind of work the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, who serve as executive producers on this project, started out doing with their early mumblecore projects. In addition, if I wanted to go further back, Baker's actions really aren't much different from the actions of Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Jim Jarmusch, who were simply motivated by the films that inspired them to pick up a camera and shoot what they thought was important, be it existential topics, racial issues, or post-college listlessness. Baker used Final Cut Pro, a very accessible software program, to edit the film, and Da Vinci Resolve, another fairly common program, assisted him with making the cinematography very bright and saturated throughout the entire film. The look of Tangerine is almost consistently urine-yellow or pea-green, reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, only far less theatrical and more suited for the Hollywood environment.
While Tangerine did pose problems for me in terms of connecting to the leads and really finding any kind of close relationship with them - largely because of cross-cutting and several interjections of other events in the middle of pivotal character conversations, this film is still nothing short of one of the most noteworthy independent efforts of 2015. It incites recognition of a highly marginalized subsector of society in a way that doesn't so much find itself concerned with politics or political correctness as much as it does infatuated with normalcy and shedding a light on a culture that is too often shortchanged into buzzwords and meek social justice campaigns.
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone, Mickey O'Hagan, and Karren Karagulian. Directed by: Sean Baker.