Movie Review - Tangerine

Unlike the recent, Oscar-nominated, foreign film, Tangerines or Mandariinid, this movie, co-written and directed by Sean Baker, has no actual tangerines. The orange fruit is not present at all. One then wonders why the title.

It might be because of the color scheme of this movie. The events take place in Los Angeles from sunset to the late evening. The first scene in fact has the two lead characters by a window in a diner where the orange in the sky influences the frame. From the point forward, the orange in the sky is ever present.

The only other explanation for the title is the fact that fruits, be they orange or otherwise, have been used as terms to refer to people in the LGBT community. Baker's film if nothing else thrusts us straight into that community. It's a troubled community with bickering and in-fighting but it is a community, one built on tight friendships that involve people being there for each other through hardships and high emotions.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez stars as Sin Dee, a transgendered Latina who just got out jail after being locked up for 28 days. She's loud, brash and fierce. Mya Taylor co-stars as Alexandra, a transgendered black girl who can be a bit of a match for Sin Dee, but things shift into crazy overdrive when Alex tells Sin Dee that her blue hoodie-wearing boyfriend-pimp Chester, played by James Ransone, is having an affair with some white girl. It then becomes Sin Dee's mission to find this girl and confront her boyfriend with the truth.

Karren Karagulian also stars as Razmik, an Armenian taxi driver who has a crush on Sin Dee, and particularly a thing for transgendered girls, or she-males. When he gets free time from driving, he picks up girls walking the street, despite having a wife and child at home. He learns that Sin Dee is out of jail and spends a significant time looking for her.

Given that this movie has LGBT themes and centers on struggling and desperate prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles within a 24-hour period, that period being Christmas Eve, Baker's film is very reminiscent of Scott Silver's Johns (1997). Baker's movie is vastly more comedic. A lot of the comedy comes through the ridiculousness of his two protagonists, particularly Sin Dee whose every line of dialogue seems to be underlined and with the caps-lock on.

At first, the movie feels like it's going to be a non-stop parade of sassiness. His camera was an iPhone 5s with a Moondog Labs anamorphic lens that perhaps allowed Baker to be more on the go. Sin Dee is very representative of that idea. She hardly ever sits still. After the initial scene, she's up and walking, and she never really stops. She slows but is constantly on the move. The movie is kinetic in that way.

However, Baker cuts to some comedic scenes involving Alex, which aren't as kinetic, including an encounter with police as well as an encounter in a car wash. It culminates in all the characters converging at Donut Time. It's a scene that perhaps goes on for too long. It's hilarious but it wears out its welcome, but the comedic ebb and flow are in some ways enhanced by Baker's inability to cut it short. Ransone's performance as Chester in the Donut Time scene is standout. He is quite funny.

Karagulian's performance as Razmik is interesting, but he gets short-changed a bit. Karagulian has appeared in now all five of Baker's features. Baker thought he would be effective in this integral yet distant part, as it underscores that trans-women are loved but sometimes are loved for wrong or abnormal reasons.

He doesn't hit us over the head with it, but Baker does point out that trans-women are hated too. Yet, his story lands on a positive note, again one of friendship and healing. It probably ranks as one of the sweetest endings to a film all year, not as sweet as the ending to Inside Out, but certainly as sweet as the fruit that bears this film's name.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language, and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


Popular Posts