“Merry Christmas Eve, Bitch.” The first line in Sean Bakers latest indie flick, Tangerine, grabs you by your shirt and doesn’t let you go. The film is propelled by the natural golden hues of the California sun fused with the blinding florescent lights of Hollywood. Baker uses this color palate to illustrate a day in the lives of two transgender sex workers in the informal red light district of Los Angeles. The quick jump cuts, large use of close-ups, and raw talent from first-time actors in the film are reminiscent of French New Wave pioneers Goddard and Truffaut. The most groundbreaking aspect about Bakers low-budget hit is the representation of a marginalized demographic telling a story we have never seen on screen. It’s an unlikely tale of betrayal, heroism, and friendship. Oh yeah, and it was all shot on an iPhone 5s.
Tangerine starts off within the “beautifully wrapped lie” that is Los Angeles, inside a local doughnut shop called Donut Time. The film follows Cin-Dee and Alexandra, a tenacious pair of friends whose raucous dialogue and sarcastic banter will have you wishing you had friends like them. Tangerine spotlights how Cin-Dee spends her first day out of jail: hunting for the “fish” that has been sleeping with her boyfriend/pimp. Throughout her epic quest, we are exposed to a comedic portrayal of a day in the life of a sex worker in Los Angeles. The movie is plastered with colorful characters Baker found on Vine, Instagram, and outside the LGBTQ Center in Hollywood. He spoke on working with non-actors to Wired, saying, “I didn’t realize this until the second day of shooting, but all of the intimidation that may have happened with our first-time actors with shoving a camera in their face, that was eliminated from Day One.” He added that it also let them shoot incognito on busy LA streets. “It just looked like we were shooting selfies.”
Tangerine has no villain, so there is no character you do not feel for. It does not sugarcoat their grueling jobs as sex-workers, but the non-stop comedic lines and tantalizing film editing help you forget. The strength and courage that Cin-dee exudes makes you wonder why this is the first time we are seeing a character like this in film. Cin-Dee is short for Cin-Dee Rella, which has me yearning for the day Disney does a reboot with a Princess as tough as her.
Sean Baker captures the essence of true BFFs in a crime-ridden neighborhood that he makes look breathtaking. The landscape of the film is amplified by Bakers use of pulsating New Jersey trap music from artists like DJ Lightup, whom he found on SoundCloud. I hate to sound like every reviewer who has said that they’ve never seen a film like Tangerine, but I have never seen a film like Tangerine. In producing a movie as authentic as this one, where trans actors play trans characters and women are empowering other women, Sean Baker has created a new standard for film heroines. Tangerine will leave you hungry for more diverse indie films, and craving doughnuts.
Who Should See It: People looking for the opposite of Pitch Perfect 2 this Summer.
Who Shouldn’t See It: People who are satisfied with the lack of diversity in film.
Tangerine is now out in theaters.
Review by Danielle O’Neill.