My expectations going into Tangerine were, I have to admit, kind of low. Preparing myself for what was surely going to be ninety straight minutes of life-affirming, humour-challenged, Sundance-approved twaddle, I folded my beautiful arms and said: Bring it. Huh? Why were my expectations so low? Oh, it's because so-called indie movies seem to have lost their edge in recent years. And in the case of this film, I was anticipating yet another movie about people who don't spend the bulk of their day turning tricks, doing drugs and riding public transit. (Don't tell me, the characters in Tangerine do all three of these things?) You got that right. Granted, they don't do all three at the same time. Nevertheless, the amount of relief I felt the second I discovered Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) were sex workers struggling to survive on the sun-baked, tangerine-coloured (hence the film's title... I think) streets of Hollywood was astronomical. Of course, I realize that there have been countless movies made about sex workers over the years. But I think most people will agree that you probably haven't seen a hooker movie like this before. First things first, look at the leads. That's right, they ain't white. Every other hooker movie I can think of, at least the one's I've reviewed, always feature white prostitutes (Angel and Hanna D. are two that immediately come to mind). Sure, some of them feature black or Asian women. But they're never more than "the white lead's friend" (Streetwalkin') or worse, ethnic window dressing (Vice Squad). So, you could say, that the film, co-written and directed by Sean Baker (Greg the Bunny), is revolutionary.
However, it's not pompous tripe. It's dirty, cheap and the lead characters aren't always likable. I know, how can someone as winsome as Sin-Dee be not likable? Um, she drags (by the hair) a fellow streetwalker across town simply to make a dramatic point to Chester (James Ransone), her boyfriend/pimp. Yes, I understand the boyfriend/pimp needed to be taught a lesson, but that poor woman was basically flung to-and-fro like a rag-doll for a huge chunk of the movie.
In the grand tradition of other single-night/single day in L.A. movies (Miracle Mile, Modern Girls, Into the Night and The Night Before - the Keanu Reeves one), Tangerine depicts the city as a dangerous place filled with desperate people living on the fringes of society. Or maybe I thought it was dangerous because I'm deathly afraid of the sun (the giant ass sphere of hot plasma is so motherfuckin' bright in this movie). Either way, I found the scummy realism of the street scenes to be quite appealing.
It also helped that Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor were not only believable as best friends, but believable as the kind of sex workers who hang out at donut shops; there's nothing phony about their depiction of bottom tier whoredom.
The plot basically goes like this: While a newly reunited Sin-Dee and Alexandra (the former just got released from prison) are chatting at their favourite donut shop, Alexandra accidentally lets slip that Chester, Sin-Dee's boyfriend/pimp, has been cheating on her with a sex worker whose name begins with the letter 'D.'
As you might expect, Sin-Dee is furious, and embarks on an exhaustive search for this D-woman that takes her all across beautiful downtown, I'm guessing, West Hollywood. That being said, while her search might be "exhaustive," that doesn't prevent her for supporting Alexandra, who has a singing gig booked later in the evening. Did I mention it's Christmas Eve? Anyway, seeing Sin-Dee multi-task (supporting her friend and getting back at Chester simultaneously) was mildly inspirational.
In order to keep things interesting, we're introduced to Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver with a thing for a certain type of prostitute. (He likes black chicks?) Yeah, um, uh.... I guess you could say that. Anyway, when he discovers that the sex worker, played by Ana Foxx (Black Girl Gloryholes 12), he just picked up is lacking in one crucial area, he goes looking for Alexandra, who isn't... lacking (their car wash hook-up is strangely romantic).
After much poking around, Sin-Dee finally finds the D-woman, a scrawny blonde afab named Dinah (Mickey O'Hagen), and sets in motion her plan to confront Chester, her, like I said, boyfriend/pimp... (Wait a second. Her pimp's name is Chester?) I know, what kind of name is that for a pimp? I don't know if this was done on purpose or not, but it was so sad to see Sin-Dee, who is pretty much the cutest person, like, ever (she puts on a one-woman adorable clinic while sitting on a bus stop bench), wasting her time on that Chester asshole.
Women who can rock white cut-off jean shorts with black hole-ridden pantyhose don't date guys named Chester. At least they don't on my watch. Then again, judging by the men who populate this film's glaring (seriously, I grew to appreciate shade even more after watching this film) universe, her choices are rather limited.
I know I was hard on Sin-Dee earlier for her harsh treatment of Dinah, but I did tear up a little bit when Sin-Dee takes a moment to fix Dinah's makeup. Call me a total sap, but the lighting, the music, and the overall temperament of the scene acted as sort of tonic for me, as it briefly reminded me that hos, and people in general, should be nicer to one another.
Despite its gritty exterior, Tangerine is clearly a film, even though it pains me to say so, that is on the cusp of being life affirming. It's true, things get somewhat ridiculous when Razmik's mother-in-law shows up at the donut shop (the scene is like a Three's Company episode... one, mind you, that was directed by John Waters), but not even that can ruin the core of this movie. Which is, the friendship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra. Beautiful, touching, funny and vital as fuck, I kind of loved this movie. Oh, and, yes, it was apparently shot on an iPhone.