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.
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.