Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)
Christmas was almost a month ago, but I want to talk about the movie that I anticipate being my movie tradition for the rest of my life. Tangerine is this beautiful story of a pair of friends, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who travel around Las Angeles on Christmas Eve in search of Sin-Dee‘s boyfriend and the woman (Mickey O’Hagan) he’s cheating with. As the day goes on, and Sin-Dee’s rage increases, Alexandra leaves Sin-Dee in order to prepare for her evening singing at a bar, not as another job but as her passion. When it’s Alexandra’s time to perform, Sin-Dee is able to put her drive for vengeance on hold to support her best friend. In parallel to Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s journey we also get to follow a cab driver, and frequent customer of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) as he travels the city looking for fares and eventually Sin-Dee as an escape from his overbearing mother-in-law.
Technically, the movie is beautiful. A lot has been made of the fact that the film was shot iPhones. I actually worry that that statement undersells the impressive nature of the film. Tangerine is not beautiful for a film shot on an I phone, Tangerine is beautiful for a film. It has a distinctive look, with high saturation and sweeping camera movements across the streets of LA. Baker’s vision is no more pronounced than in the best scene of the film. Razmik meets up with Alexandra and they drive through the car wash while having sex. We sit in the back seat and watch as Alexandra does her job and Razmik gets his reprieve. The scene contains one small jump to Sin-Dee beating up on O’Hagan’s character but otherwise focuses uncut on the scene, and the sound of the carwash is never interrupted.
What’s most important to me about Tangerine is how it portrays its characters. Sin-Dee and Alexandra aren’t played for laughs and they don’t exist merely for the audience to view in an exploitive value. They are real people, and Baker respects them as such. This isn’t the movie about transgender people like The Danish Girl was. This is a movie about friends who just happen to be transgender. I hope that the rest of the film world will learn from Baker and continue treating transgender people with respect.