Sometimes it is best to listen to your friend’s whole story before you divulge information that only you know. Failure to wait the story’s end can instigate all kinds of trouble and, before you know it, you are all up in someone else’s drama you have no business being in. Trust!
Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) meets with her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), after her release from a six-week jail sentence. After hearing from Alexandra that her boyfriend has cheated on her, Sin-Dee Rella decides to go on a sidewalk trip through the seedier side of Los Angeles in search of her competition in Sean Baker’s independent film Tangerine. Alexandra decides to leave Sin-Dee on her own because her girlfriend will not keep her promise to side-step the drama.
Tangerine is filled with rough and wild misadventures commenced by these uber-confident transgender prostitutes. They are loud; they cuss like sailors; and, without apology, they use their bodies for both pleasure and for payment. One customer refuses to pay Alexandra for her services, and she promptly tells him, “oh, don’t forget, I got one of those, too” and thus begins the street fight in front two policemen.
Tangerine is hilarious. Its action is brutal. Its story is raw. The transgender characters are wide open and vulnerable but fierce. The absence of slick editing and filming brings a welcomed realistic quality to this film, and the glossy world of Hollywood does not intervene in the film’s production. Well, there is a reason for that: Baker shot the film exclusively on iPhone 5s. Baker says in an interview, “the iPhone actually helped us out in a weird way with this because we weren’t able to use telephoto lenses so we always said that we wanted to step away from the observational way of approaching these characters and instead participate in the day with them.”
What is fantastic about Tangerine is its parallel story of the city of Los Angeles. Most films set in Los Angeles feature the automobile filled with people cosseted by tinted windows and made anonymous and beautiful by sunglasses. In the film, Baker’s lens follows pedestrians who are walking and walking and walking to and from places and people. There are scenes of people waiting for — get this — a cab or a bus that may or may not arrive on time. These scenes give the audience Baker’s “observational way” of approaching his characters.
Yet, for all of its fun, danger, and laughs, I am upset that Baker features transgender characters as prostitutes—an all too familiar and overplayed stereotype of that culture. Even more troubling is the attack on Sin-Dee’s nemesis: a prostitute named Dinah (Micky O’Hagan), who is punched and slapped as she is being dragged like a rag doll by Sin Dee through the street and onto the bus. That scene, my friends, is not funny, especially, when it is enacted by a man in a wig.
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