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Tangerine – Review


Release Date: 10 July 2015 [USA]
Director: Sean Baker
Writer: Sean Baker - Chris Bergoch [Screenplay]
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez - Mya Taylor - Karren Karagulian - Mickey O'Hagan



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Posted January 21, 2016 by

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Tangerine Review:

Sean Baker’s movie, shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, follows an eventful Christmas Eve in the life of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodrigruez), a transgender prostitute based in downtown Los Angeles. Having just completed a twenty-eight day jail term for holding cocaine, Sin-Dee is reunited with best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), and looking forward to sharing a doughnut and some news about her boyfriend (and pimp), Chester (The Wire’s James Mansone). But before she can elaborate, Alexandra tells Sin-Dee that Chester has been cheating on her with a ‘real fish’ (Mickey O’Hagan’s Dinah), and an incensed Sin-Dee heads out onto the streets to find her errant man and her rival for his attentions.

Despite Alexandra’s insistence that she will go home if there is any drama, both girls lurch from one overblown scenario to the next. Whilst Sin-Dee seeks answers and possibly revenge, Alexandra has dreams of singing, and spends the time between steering her friend away from confrontation with spreading word of her upcoming gig.

On the periphery is Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian taxi driver with a young family, an overbearing mother-in-law, and a penchant for girls like Sin-Dee and Alexandra. We see miniature storylines play out in the back of Razmik’s taxi, snapshots of lives which ground the action in the wider world of LA, and scenes of his family eating a Christmas Eve meal give a sense of a man who seems, at first, to be making a decent stab at the American Dream, but for all his respectability is just as trapped as the street girls he is drawn to.

Tangerine Review

The way in which Tangerine was shot could be construed as gimmicky, but it’s not. The cinematography is so accomplished that it’s easy to forget the entire thing was captured on the hop, using a phone. The performances are astounding, the chemistry between Rodrigruez and Taylor providing laugh out loud moments as well as some genuinely moving ones. The casting of non-actors (Taylor and Rodrigruez are both former sex workers) gives an authenticity to the humour, bitchiness, and camaraderie of the characters that populate the red light district, which reminded me a little of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. The whole thing has a tarnished fairy-tale quality to it (there’s even a lost plastic shoe in place of a glass slipper), and while there is plenty of drama, there is no real sense of threat. A confrontation between Alex and a john is played for laughs, and even Sin-Dee ‘Chris Browning’ Dinah while dragging her all over town is farcical rather than truly scary. This serves makes a random act of spite toward Sin-Dee at the end of the movie all the more shocking.

With its raucous, pumping soundtrack, rowdy dialogue, and seedy, glamourous aesthetic, Tangerine isn’t about highlighting the plight of sex workers. It’s about the attachments we form for better and for worse, and the very human ways in which we can disappoint each other and build each other up.


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Katie Young
Katie Young – Author
Freelance Contributor

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