Shot-On-iPhone TANGERINE Takes to the Streets of L.A.

by Elizabeth Stoddard

Transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) are the leads in Sean Baker’s Sundance hit Tangerine, set on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. Sin-Dee has recently been released from prison and is searching for the whereabouts of her man Chester (James Ransone, Low Winter Sun).

The women determinedly navigate the city, with Sin-Dee asking people about Chester (and his new fling) and Alexandra handing out flyers for her performance later that night. Sin-Dee finds and takes out her anger on Chester’s new woman (Mickey O’Hagan), as musical cues hint at the strength of her emotion.

Meanwhile, Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian, who has appeared in other Baker films) drives the streets, ferrying drunk and disorderly customers (warning: there is some very realistic puking in this movie) along with more well-behaved passengers. His mother-in-law Ashken (Alla Tumanian) and wife have invited friends over for holiday dinner.

These separate threads of story join midway through the film and lead to a slightly ridiculous denouement. There’s no constant trajectory to the film — moments at a fast clip are interspersed with slow interludes. If there’s any overarching theme to Tangerine, it’s fidelity — or rather, infidelity — as Razmik cheats on his wife with prostitutes he picks up in his cab, Sin-Dee learns what Chester was up to while she was locked up, and Alexandra admits to past indiscretion.

Baker captured the movie on iPhone, which explains the repeated use of natural light and Tangerine’s informal feel. Tangerine plays out in a form and look reminiscent of cult hit Slacker — although this new film has more of a continuous narrative plot than the Linklater work. A diverse cast of characters peppers the film (including an actor I recognized from Chuck, Scott Krinsky, playing a john) but the primary dramatic action comes from Sin-Dee and Alexandra.

Rodriguez and Taylor play their flawed characters without pretense. Their performances are raw, showing us the tough, yet also fragile, facets of these women. Throughout this day of stresses and joys, Alexandra and Sin-Dee stick up for each other and display the forgiveness possible between two close friends. Tangerine is a rare cinematic celebration of friendship between two trans women of color.

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