Film / Theatre Reviews - Reviews



“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” Sin-Dee Rella is fresh out of a month-long jail stint, and she’s pissed. She meets up with her best friend Alexandria, also a trans women turning tricks on the Sunset Strip, at their local donut haunt, who drops the bombshell that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp has been unfaithful while she’s been away. “No drama!” warns Alexandria, but it’s too late: the revelation sets a vengeful Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) marching up and down Hollywood Boulevard, determined to wring the neck of the cheating Chester and his ‘white fish bitch’, instigated a winding, popping, one-crazy-night farce that will loop all players back on eachother at the evening’s close.

Written by Sean S. Baker and Chris Bergoch, and shot by Baker on an iPhone 5S fitted with prototype anamorphic lens adaptors, Tangerine is a quite gorgeous, street-level view of West Hollywood, its low-lying burger joints and nail salons squating against wide, colour-drenched vistas of the setting Californian sun. Up front and intimate, it moves in New Wave bursts and lulls, bouncing around the folks who grind out their living on its streets and pavements. While Sin-Dee demands information from anyone she recognises, Alexandria (Mya Taylor), harbouring some level of ambition or at least dissatisfaction, is hustling for her solo club performance, Armenian taxi driver Razmik is ferrying the city’s flotsam and chasing down trans prostitutes, most of whom he seems to know by name. Well experienced in the logistics of giving efficient head, he’s got his blowjob technique perfectly synced with the cycle of the local drive-through car wash.

Untimid without being brash, Tangerine has none of the ‘issue’ solemnity that sometimes, understandably, characterises films about transgendered persons (like, say, last year’s 52 Tuesdays, directed by Sophie Hyde). There just isn’t the time for it, amongst the urgent dub-step drops and frenetic camera(phone) movement. Sin-Dee and Alexandria have the energy and purpose of real people, first-time actors Taylor and Rodriguez, who Baker happened to run into at a LGBT support centre, delivering ratty, ratter-tat lexicon with a knowingly theatrical appreciation of how to ham when necessary.

Like any good Christmas movie, it nails the mix of sugar-pop and sentiment. At the fag-end of their wild night, exhausted and reeling from the screwball pace, the characters pause for breath, alone or together, gathering energy for the next day ahead. Alienated from their families to one degree or another thanks to their choices and desires, they’re sustained some kind of surrogate community amongst sex workers and their clients, but even that’s not always soothing enough. Razmik’s brusque mother-in-law dismisses the city as a ‘beautifully wrapped lie’, but Tangerine succeeds by bolting its manic criss-crossing to realities of loneliness and vulnerability, as well as geography. Sometimes life throws a cup of warm piss in your face, but if you’re lucky your friend will help you wash your wig. This one’s a Christmas firecracker. Conor Smyth



Conor Smyth is the Film Editor at The Thin Air and regular Banterflix contributor. Follow him @csmythrun.