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Film review: Tangerine


Director Sean Baker is back with one of his low budget wonders, this time shot entirely on an iPhone5s smartphone. The setting is Hollywood and his protagonists are trans-gender prostitutes (or should I say sex-workers?) Sin-dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor).

The opening scene (shot in a donut shop) grabs you right away as just out of jail Sin-dee threatens to find her pimp/boyfriend Chester, who has been cheating on her with a non-transgender woman, Dinah, another prostitute. Alexandra attempts to calm her friend down but Sin-dee is determined to locate the offending parties and mete out her own brand of “justice.”

Although it has its moments, the Tangerine plot gets bogged down with Sin-dee’s for the most part one note performance. She grabs Dinah’s arm (and unconvincingly drags Dinah without any real resistance from her) to a near empty bar where Alexandra is scheduled to perform as a singer. In the bathroom, Sin-dee and Dinah do meth together and then Sin-dee finally softens up and helps Dinah with her hair.

There’s a subplot involving an Armenian cabdriver, Razmik, whose preference for trans-gender prostitutes is thwarted when he discovers to his chagrin that he’s just invited a non-transgender woman of the night into his cab. Later we discover Razmik is married and his mother-in- law suspects that he’s not been working late at night as he’s been claiming.Things come to a head back at the donut shop where Razmik’s mother- in- law calls her daughter and she shows up just in time to hear her mother exposing Razmik as having (in her own words) an interest in “gay prostitutes.” But the wife doesn’t want to hear her mother’s concerns and they all return home to sort the rest of the shenanigans out.

Meanwhile, Chester confesses to Sin-dee that he had a one-time affair with Alexandra. Sin-dee stalks off and attempts to hail some cars with johns passing by, but is doused with a noxious liquid. In a touching moment, Alexandra helps Sin-dee clean off and then lets her wear her wig. Dinah is rebuffed at the brothel where Sin-dee first encountered her, as the madam there informs that someone has taken her place.

If all this sounds a bit silly, it is. Score points for the irreverent tone but Sin-dee’s quest for “revenge” grows tiresome. Taylor gives the more sensitive performance of the two principals, with Rodriguez displaying less subtlety as a woman with a bad case of anger management. Ultimately, Tangerine, with its message of friendship triumphant, has its heart in the right place, but there’s little here that will appeal to the intellect.

Lewis Papier.