Language: English, Armenian
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Sean Baker
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez
Believe me, TANGERINE will soon be enshrined in the film history as the first universally-acclaimed feature shot entirely with iPhone, a potent testimony that film now has entered into a new era, where literally everyone who owns a cellphone can be a film-maker, whether the upcoming surplus will rejuvenate the vitality of this art form or swamp us with too many jerrybuilt indie-trashes, one thing is certain, the change is inevitable, and TANGERINE is the lucky landmark.
Another distinctive feat of indie geek Sean Baker’s fifth feature is its protagonists, adheres to his interest in lower-class objects, TANGERINE is about street trans-hustlers in L.A., a sub-cultural blind spot for most audience. The plot sets on the Christmas Eve and revolves around two young black trans-prostitutes, Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Taylor), the former is newly released from jail for covering up her pimp-boyfriend Chester (Ransone), only to discover from the latter that Chester has been hooked up with a white tart Dinah (O’Hagan) during her one-month long prison time. A hot-headed Sin-Dee resolves to find Dinah and Chester, questions them face-to-face. Alexandra is tagged along at first, but soon parts company since she has an important gig to attend, she is trying to be a singer. Eventually they meet again in the night but things will go haywire, their friendship must endure the test of an ugly truth.
In Baker’s book, Sin-Dee and Alexandra constitute a duet of love and dream, two things we cherish the most, but become so unattainable for their line-of-business, yet, even in the dimmest corner, there are anomalies like these two, on the surface, Sin-Dee is a crude spitfire, unrealistically naive, and unpleasantly aggressive, whereas Alexandra is less emotional, more elusive, yet, her manly side can effortlessly roar with lighter when she engages in a relentless grapple with a stingy client; but deep inside, they are two ordinary souls trying to fight for their lives, neither dishearten nor delusional, life may be hard for them, but their friendship bonds them together, a touching ending where both take off their wigs and reveal their biological appearance, that moment, a heartfelt understanding transcends all their exterior forms, no matter how singular they are, just as two tender human beings, they deserve our compassion and respect, it is a masterstroke rising from this gimmicky fare.
A less-enticing sub-plot is about a trans-addicted taxi driver Razmik (Karagulian), an Armenian immigrant, a closeted-family man, who is obsessed with Sin-Dee and his secret will be disclosed by his hell-bent mother-in-law Ashken (Tumanian) on the Christmas Eve in the Donut Time. Novelty-wise, it is nothing we haven’t seen here, but Razmik’s predilection is a head-scratcher to be categorized.
Under the natural Californian light and the hazy halo of streetlight, the cheap outlook surprisingly aligns with the narrative, Taylor and Rodriguez both shine in their contrasting (drama queen Vs. ladylike decency) but mesmerising performances, especially Taylor, whose rendition of “TOYLAND” is simply phenomenal. Also I must name-check James Ransone, whose riffraff sleaziness is right on the nose. Heading towards the awards season, hopefully this critic-darling can stir some ripples in injecting a certain fresh air into the conservative Academy systems, even if it doesn’t, it has already achieved something extraordinary in its own sphere, one of the most topical film of 2015, is beyond any doubt.