When I first heard of Tangerine, I wondered if it was a movie adaptation of Edward Bloor's classic middle-grade novel TANGERINE. It isn't. In fact, Tangerine is wholly original.
Tangerine's technical claim to fame is that it was shot entirely on the iPhone 5S. I certainly can't make movies this good with my cell phone, so bravo. It doesn't look like Roger Deakins shot it, but it looks perfectly respectable for an indie movie. You wouldn't know if someone didn't tell you.
Tangerine is set in sun-drenched Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. It's a land of bright colors and intersecting cultures. One of those cultures is that of transgender sex workers. Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) just got out of jail and is enjoying a holiday donut with her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Unfortunately, Alexandra lets it slip that Sin-Dee's boyfriend cheated on her - even though she's been gone less than a month. Sin-Dee instantly marches off in a rage, ready to make her boyfriend and the girl he cheated on her with pay.
Meanwhile, cabdriver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) ferries an odd assortment of fares around the city.
The acting in Tangerine is very natural, but also full of passion and fire. This is no mumblecore film. These characters are loud, because they've learned that's how they have to be to make their voices heard. Almost all of them do awful things during the course of the film, but they also expose their vulnerable underbellies. They can't survive without their communities, but their community ties are fragile.
I also have to give props to the soundtrack. A climatic Christmas song is beautifully chosen. The pounding synths that accompany Sin-Dee tearing down the streets of Los Angeles are infectious and riotous. The soundtrack sets the tone, and the story rises to it.
Tangerine is a hilarious film, and a touching one. It's a slice of life that runs through the full gamut of human emotions, finding bitter humor in the darkest spots. When the credits begin, that silence is a welcome space to release yourself from the entrenching world of the film.