Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O'Hagan, James Ransone
At the risk of pissing off a lot of people and eating my own words, I almost didn’t write this review or even watch beyond five minutes of Tangerine. Not to be confused with Tangerines, the Oscar nominated, award winning, foreign film from last year; this film, which premiered at Sundance, was shot entirely using an iPhone. It is actually quite impressive what a “filmmaker” can accomplish with a cell phone, an attachable anamorphic lens and an $8 app for editing. Yet, the idea that anyone can make a film that ends up in the already over-crowded cinematic universe is something I personally am not ready for.
Tangerine is the story of Tinseltown working girl Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who just got out of jail a few days before Christmas and is desperately looking for her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone). Sin-Dee’s best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) revealed that Chester has been with other girls in the month Sin-Dee was incarcerated. Her mission is to find “the other woman”, drag her across town and confront Chester in the donut shop where he conducts business. Along the way, the two transvestite prostitutes stir up endless drama that comes to a climactic close in the donut shop.
The idea that anyone can make a film that ends up in the already over-crowded cinematic universe is something I personally am not ready for.
Tangerine is writer/director Sean Baker’s third film, and his first to receive an MPAA rating. Part of what film critic Jeffrey Wells calls Hollywood’s current “transgender fad,” the film is a prelude to more high profile transgender films starring Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) and Elle Fanning (About Ray) debuting later this year. The entire script feels ‘off the cuff’ and improvised (“gurl” and “bitch” are used in virtually every sentence). The structure of Tangerine amounts to scenes of dialogue forwarding the lackluster plot sandwiched between shots of gritty West Hollywood with techno or classical music for irony.
Baker takes us into a sad, depressing and very dirty world of drugs, sex and human depravity without ever making a real statement on the subject matter or identifying a reason for Tangerine’s existence. Maybe this is unfair, but it’s difficult to imagine this type of project getting any sort of attention if not for the current social mood, as evidenced by our fascination with Caitlyn Jenner. One critic said the film was “eager to offend” and I am not sure that is something worth bragging about. Although Tangerine is full of positive praise from other critics touting its outside the system production and nitty-gritty indie roots, all I saw was a faint script, amateur acting, and subject matter that is presented in the most unflattering and offensive ways.
iPhone filmmaker trying to break into mainstream with socially relevant subject matter.