Film Review: Tangerine

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Tangerine is full of energy and is able to propel itself past the fact that one of its leads is borderline insufferable for the majority of the runtime.

A day in the life film, Tangerine follows a pair of transgender prostitutes, one of which just got out of a 28 day stint in prison, and the adventures of an Armenian cabbie who gets himself into his own sort of trouble at home. I know those two threads don’t really sound like they should go together, but they do, as director Sean Baker drives these two plot lines into one with engrossing energy.

Tangerine sucks you in. The visual style, the music, the editing, its sense of humor, there is a lot going for Tangerine and Baker makes the absolute most of just about everything he has at his disposal. The only weak link in the film is the character of Sin-Dee and the actress behind her. I feel like Baker wants us to laugh along with the insanity of the characterization we get of Sin-Dee, but she is just too big of a sociopath for me to support or care about her for the majority of the runtime.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez plays Sin-Dee so big and over the top I found myself extremely grated by her presence every time she opened her mouth. All that said, something happens with the character in the third act, Rodriguez stops playing the part so big and the character becomes tolerable, almost likable. I don’t know, Sin-Dee was a big problem for me enjoying the first third of this movie, and while that characterization might be honest, it doesn’t mean I want to be around it. Still, after the first couple scenes, the film’s scope widens and its cast grows larger, reducing Sin-Dee’s presence until Rodriguez figures out the character in the final act.

Speaking of the cast, most everyone else in the film is pretty good. I particularly enjoyed James Ransone as Chester, who somehow makes a lowlife pimp feel like somebody you could hang around for more than a minute. The way he handles himself in and out of that donut shop had me laughing a lot as he bounced off everything that was being thrown at him. Mya Taylor and Karren Karagulian are also good in their respective parts, with Taylor selling her sad eyes because she has to deal with Sin-Dee and Karagulian doing a fine job of juggling the many different characters that end up in his cab. Karagulian’s first encounter with a prostitute was one of the funniest scenes of the year. Mickey O’Hagan is also quite good as someone who gets tossed around quite a bit, thrown into a crazy situation. O’Hagan and Rodriquez’s chemistry goes a long way to redeeming Sin-Dee in the third act.

Sean Baker is someone to watch, as he creates a visually engaging and kineticly told story here on a minimal budget. The film got a lot of buzz for being shot on iPhones, but this never feels like a gimmick. Baker uses the tools at his disposal to create a fine-looking film. The orange hue of the film lingers over everything, but the color still pops out of the screen when it needs to, making Baker’s clever shot selection always feel interesting.

Tangerine is a pretty good film, made even more impressive by what Baker was able to get out of the resources at his disposal. Yeah, I’m not on board with Sin-Dee for the majority of the film, but there is way too much good stuff going on around her to not check out the film. Tangerine is a one of a kind journey, in a lived in world, that feels authentic even if you are an outsider to its world. Funny and kinetic, Tangerine is bound to entertain you and never lose your attention.

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