Tangerine ★★

Sean Baker’s competition entry was shot entirely on an iPhone 5, and considering those limitations it looks pretty good. I completely applaud the embrace of such means to make films, and the inventive approach, but I found the story quite horrendous. What starts as an exciting, high-energy, very-LA film about two inseparable friends from a minority group we rarely see represented becomes an arduous slog as three interconnected stories converge on a donut shop in loud, aggressive and frankly contrived fashion. The breadth of LA, the most interesting character in the film, is reduced to this single location.

Tangerine is set on Christmas Eve and aligns the audience intimately with two transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who has just been released from prison to learn that her pimp boyfriend has been unfaithful, and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sin-Dee becomes obsessed with clarifying the rumour, embarking on a whirlwind mission to locate Chester (James Ransone, The Wire), while Alexandra, who has booked in a singing performance at a club later that night, simply wants to get through the day drama-free.

The third story involving Razmik, an Armenian taxi driver who works with the transgender girls by offering rides around town as a currency for favours, initially reveals a lot about the seedy side of LA. We see all sorts of individuals come and go in his cab. When he learns that Sin-Dee is out of prison, he becomes obsessed with tracking her down to the point of abandoning his wife and family for Christmas-Eve dinner to start the hunt.

The pumping soundtrack, on its own fantastic, does an enormous amount of heavy lifting by covering up that not much is actually happening. This highlight-feature disappears in the later stages as the soundtrack is replaced by the characters yelling at one another. I found the acting mostly appalling, especially from Ransone, the only recognisable ‘actor’ in the film. But, the real hurdle for me was feeling sympathy for these characters, and I understand that Baker has tried to avoid any sort of judgement towards them, but the time spent with them just isn’t enjoyable. The stories are very thin. When Sin-Dee starting viciously pushing and pulling around the girl she believes her pimp has cheated on her with, and when Razmik walked out on his family, I realised I couldn’t care less what happens to them.

Immediately following a forced and completely unnecessary late conflict Tangerine does have a fantastic final sequence with more heart than anything else preceding it. But by this point I had been long contemplating a swift exit.

Andrew liked this review