Tangerine / Directed by Sean Baker
Today, I visit for the first time what many consider to be a modern classic.
Tangerine (2015) is a comedic drama about Sin-Dee, a transgender woman on a relentless quest for the prostitute who is sleeping with her boyfriend/pimp, Chester. Early in the film, we find Sin-dee talking in a dinky donut shop with Alexandra, the cushion when Sin-Dee gets volatile. This is a scene that sets up the rest of the film, the camera weaves in and out of the women against a luring tangerine sunset. Scenes like this show a little of what I loved most about the movie: the characters. We not only follow Sin-Dee and her hunt for the prostitute but oscillate back and forth between hers and other stories. This jumping back and forth sets up an expectation that these events will merge in a meaningful way, and they do. Everything is intentional here. Even the incessant use of the term bitch, in the beginning, is revealed to be purposeful rather than exploitation.
After interrogating a local about the whereabouts of her prostitute, Sin-Dee finally finds her. In the brothel where Chester’s new boo is staying, Sin-Dee storms in and grabs her by the pigtails, drags her out, and man-handles her throughout L.A. in search of Chester. Honestly, I found this scene to be quite disturbing -- just the thought of being coerced to run off at the whim of a total stranger frightens me. As hard as it was for me to watch, the prostitute herself seemed a bit cavalier about it. This is a narrative with a unique voice that challenged my preconceived notions about the population it depicts. I seldom come across films that star one transgender person, let alone two! That, however, is Sean Baker, a maverick who has employed minorities that are rarely given a voice elsewhere in film.
Oh, and I can not finish this review without mentioning “the thing:” Tangerine was shot on three iPhone 5s. The quality of the film was so superb that I couldn’t really tell. This movie proves that with a really compelling story there is no reason not to make your movie-- it’s waiting in your pocket.