Tangerine ★★★★½

The lives of people who live on the margins are extremely difficult, but they're also full of moments of beauty, of grace, of humor. Often, marginalized people are forced to make these moments ourselves, to find beauty in the abject, to laugh at the all the bullshit. "God gave me a penis. That's pretty damn cruel, don't you think?" Sin-Dee casually quips. We have to make the best of things, and we have to do it for ourselves, because the fuckers at the top sure as hell aren't gonna do it for us.

One thing that I see a lot in discussions of the intersection of art and social justice is the idea of representation. Seeing ourselves on screen or on television or on the page of a comic book or novel. Showing people, especially young people, that what they're feeling is valid and real, that they're not alone. But even more important that representation is getting diverse creators. Diverse creators will provide different perspectives, tell different stories, and diverse representation will naturally spring from that.

Tangerine is exemplary of this. Sean Baker has stated that he originally envisioned this film as a serious, downbeat drama. I can't imagine how miserable that would've been. I don't want or need another sad story about tragic queers told by a straight cis dude. The amazing actresses in the movie Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez insisted that the movie instead be a comedy and their perspectives, experiences, and ideas completely changed the tone and direction of the script, and in doing so helped tell a vibrant, hilarious, and deeply humane story about very flawed people. It gives me hope for the kinds of stories that will be told by and about trans women in the future.

Baker's iPhone cinematography is just the latest entry in a growing list of films which give me hope for the future of digital cinema. The streets of Los Angeles are flooded with orange-yellow light as the camera struggles to keep up with Sin-Dee stomping down the sidewalk, on the warpath. The warm glow makes Los Angeles look both grimy and beautiful, an impression only deepened as day turns to night and the twinkling Christmas lights and florescent-lit storefronts appear out of the darkened streets.

Sin-Dee Rella, played by Rodriguez, is the vibrant beating heart of this movie, and exudes all the humor, grace, sadness, and rage of the best movie characters. She's enormously funny, excessively violent, witheringly sarcastic, and fully human. And matching her at every turn is Taylor's Alexandra, graceful and ambitious and just as sarcastic as Sin-Dee, keeping up with her every step of the way. These are landmark performances, and I can only hope that they lead to great things for both performers.

This film plays like a punk rock Mike Leigh, with the actors contributing to their own stories, humor and sadness inextricably intertwined, deeply humane storytelling, and a thrilling immediacy. More than any other movie I've seen recently, Tangerine feels like it takes place now, today. If this film heralds the future of independent cinema, of queer cinema, of digital cinema, then I welcome it.

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