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Tangerine

by
in
on Nov 2, 2015

Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) sits on one side of a donut shop booth, her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) on the other. The camera’s on the table, restricted to shot-countershot looking up, with large windows setting both in sharp urban relief against different halves of a large L.A. intersection. With rapid cutting back and forth reminiscent of the dashboard cams in Kiarostami’s 10, Tangerine‘s opening is both intimate and epic, and it’s exciting to see all this space so clearly laid out behind the two. There’s a micro story being established and simultaneously the introduction of a landscape to be explored: an instant attention-getter director Sean Baker follows through on.

Sin-Dee discovers — via an (inadvertently?) dropped prompt from Alexandra in this quasi-expositional sequence — that pimp boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) was cheating on her during her just-completed 28-day jail stint. That sets Sin-Dee off on a furious cross-city trek to track down the lady and confront her man. Exasperated by the drama and preparing for an evening nightclub gig, Alexandra splits; the movie divides its attention threefold, between the two’s separating/converging trajectories and regular customer Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a closeted Armenian taxi driver whose traditional home life provides repressive counterpoint to the lively streets. This journey-into-the-night structure is potentially the stuff of farce — energetic commuting across Hollywood punctuated by regular character intersections, building to a hysterical head — but not quite: Sin-Dee and Alexandra are trans women sex workers, and both parts of that equation automatically mean their lives, or at least their dignity, are never out of some kind of danger.

This is something you forget about over the course of the film, which only reminds you of it once. Tangerine unostentatiously celebrates fluidity, community, support and is generally quite hearteningly right-on, casual crystal meth use and all; it’s all the better for not trying to ennoble the characters. The film doesn’t feel “researched” in any way: thanks to its (first-time performers) leading duo’s extensive insight into home turf, it has the intangible air of someone navigating terrain they understand viscerally rather than notes taken by a bewildered outsider and shoehorned into a plot. (Vadim Rizov)

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