Film Review: Tangerine

Tangerine is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 22 – 28 January

I knew two things about director Sean Baker’s Tangerine – that it was shot entirely on iPhones and that it was about about two transgender sex workers.

But these facts swiftly become incidental in this whirlwind Christmas Eve odyssey.

Catapulted into the action we pick up the story in the middle of a conversation in the Donut Time diner between Alexandra and Sin-Dee ( Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), the latter freshly released from a short spell in prison and now determined to track down her boyfriend (and pimp) Chester. She has got wind of his infidelity during her incarceration and is out for revenge.

The vigorous pace of the film is powered by Sin-Dee’s purposeful striding of the streets of Hollywood as she sets out to find him, fuelled by fury. She is trailed by Alexandra who is trying, in vain, to stave off the inevitable drama she knows accompanies her friend while trying herself to garner an audience for her singing gig later that evening.

Many films and TV shows set in Los Angeles repeat the received wisdom that no-one walks in LA but in Tangerine Sin-Dee and her friends go everywhere on foot, offering an intriguing street level view of the city of angels.

Along the way they pick up Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), a sort of seedy Cinderella who loses her shoe and spends most of the film Diddle-diddle-dumpling style: one shoe off, one shoe on. She encounters her own version of the Christmas story too – finding the inn full in just one of Tangerine’s reminders of the harsh and grinding existence these characters endure.

There’s a parallel strand of Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) – peppered with clever cameos of his generally awful Christmas Eve passengers – who is striving to maintain a veneer of normal family life while indulging his own soft spot for the transgender red light district, until his highly intuitive Armenian mother-in-law arrives for the festive season and his story collides with Sin-Dee’s and Alexandra’s.

Tangerine may employ innovative techniques and show us characters not front and centre of many films but peel back the skin and its themes are familiar – friendship, betrayal and hope. Complemented by stunning performances and dynamic direction this is beguiling storytelling with a startling exuberance – funny, warm and poignant it is infused with an energy which takes a while to wear off, even after the credits have rolled.

Jemima Laing

Twitter: @jemimalaing

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