Review: 'Tangerine' Takes on Every Label: Black, Brown, Poor, Trans, Woman & Sex Worker (Opens Tomorrow)
Photo Credit: S & A

Review: 'Tangerine' Takes on Every Label: Black, Brown, Poor, Trans, Woman & Sex Worker (Opens Tomorrow)

nullAfter a month-long stint in jail, Sin-Dee Rella is back on the

block on Christmas Eve. Reuniting with best friend Alexandra at the local donut

shop, she learns that her pimp boyfriend Chester has been unfaithful with a

white "fish" (biological woman), which sends her on an immediate

mission to find and confront both the cheaters.

Shot entirely on the iPhone 5s, filmmaker Sean Baker’s

latest has been called weird, outrageous, and "unlike anything you’ve ever

seen." Granted, the movie follows two young trans women of color working

as prostitutes on the seedy streets of Hollywood, a world seldom seen on even art

house screens. The language is filthy, as are some of the deeds. But the story

is also relatable and sympathetic to its two captivating leads (newcomers

Kitana Rodriguez and Mya Taylor), spinning a tale of friendship and solidarity

in the most unforgiving circumstances.

It’s also timely, in a moment when cultural icons like

Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner have helped to get the world more

interested and accepting of stories about trans women, however complex society’s

fascination with them may be. Similar to Jill Soloway’s "Transparent"

and dream hampton’s "Treasure," trans women are said to have been

fully involved in shaping the story here. Baker lived near the filming

locations at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd and Highland Ave in Los

Angeles, and he and screenwriter Chris Bergoch assembled the script by

researching the real lives of people who lived in the area including Taylor and


The movie gets started with a bang, with Sin-Dee stomping

the streets to the sound of a pulsating club soundtrack, on the hunt for information

that can aid in her revenge. It turns out that revenge means finding the

culprit of the cheating and dragging her across half the city by her hair. But

in case we’re tempted to stereotype her as hot-tempered and out of control, Sin-Dee’s

brashness is balanced by the milder-mannered Alexandra, who’s fully focused on

gathering a crowd for her performance set for later that night.

The story to this point is relatively simple and much

depends on the raw energy of Rodriguez and Taylor, who the writers say improvised

many of their scenes. When that wears thin, enter the third story of Armenian

taxi driver and family man Razmik (Karren Karagulian), whose path winds and

intersects with the others, eventually crashing into a fiery showdown involving

all three.

At its most basic, the movie is a clinic in low-budget indie

filmmaking. Shooting with a camera phone allowed the crew to film

inconspicuously on the street, getting intimately close to the action in an

almost documentary style. Even on the big screen we feel the pressure of riding

in Razmik’s suffocating cab, like when he takes a fare that’s way too drunk for

the ride. Anamorphic adapters and

apps gave the iPhone a cinematic look, including the brassy "tangerine"

glow of the LA sun that penetrates many of the scenes.

With the passengers on Razmik’s route and the various

hookers, johns, and locals we meet on Sin-Dee’s rampage, it’s a parade of faces

from the less glamorous side of Hollywood. Much of the film plays out like sketch

comedy, especially Sin-Dee’s climactic confrontation back at the donut shop with

Chester (James Ransone), who puts on a "transracial" shtick to rival

James Franco in "Spring Breakers." But we also get a look at the

harsh realities of the women’s lifestyle, which involves a constant struggle

for money and respect, both of which are in short supply for black and brown trans

women who are also sex workers.

Through Alexandra and Sin-Dee, the film ultimately sends the

message that sisterhood and dogged self-reliance are the only keys to getting

by. As Alexandra quips, "Out here, it’s all about our hustle. And that’s


Magnolia Pictures releases ‘Tangerine’ in theaters on July


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