Like many film fans, you were probably interested in ‘Tangerine’ when it rocked Sundance, but decided to give it a miss when it hit cinemas. The idea of 90 minutes of a film shot exclusively on the iPhone 5S gave you visions of Cloverfield-like nausea, as the portability of the medium allowed the filmmakers to run around Los Angeles with no regard for the strain it would have on the stomachs of those watching the film.
Two comforting words of advice, though. Firstly, rest assured the film holds shakycam in as much contempt as you do, and even the most motionsick can enjoy this film with freedom. Secondly, with the film now on Netflix, you can even watch it on your own iPhone, recreating the action of the film in real time. Though, of course, that is not advisable unless you can run off of half a donut all day and can run in high heels whilst pulling a sex worker around by her hair (note: I definitely do not advocate this).
As even that tiniest of plot synopses tells you, this is unlike any other film you see this year, and that is why I urge you to queue it on your Netflix, your inner ear be damned.
Perhaps the greatest test of a director is not what they can with hundreds of millions of dollars, a bank of computers and kilometers of green cloth, but what they can do with nothing but an idea, some chutzpah and whatever cheap film equipment they can get their hands on. In this, and in most other ways, Tangerine is a roaring success.
The story of two transgendered sex workers (though no-one in the film, including the two leads themselves would call them that,) in West Hollywood working and hunting down the cheating fiance of one of the girls, the films zings with an energy that only filming on the fly with iPhones could bring. Filming on phones gives Tangerine a grainy scuzziness that really suits the film from the top of its weave to the sole of its knockoff Manolos. The film is right up there with David Hockney in the small canon of iPhone art, and maybe evens usurps him. If the film leads to more people using iPhones to make movies rather than vlogs about their latest purchase as a high street store of your choice, this can be no bad thing.
Although most reviews from this film’s run at Sundance focused on the technical achievements, how it does so much with so little, the two lead transwomen, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, need equal credit. They bring a funnywoman-straightwoman dynamic that plays like a Paris is Burning (which we reviewed here) take on a screwball comedy, full of rapid-fire wit, slang and killer physical comedy. I could watch Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) dragging the woman her fiancee has been cheating on her with across LA for hours if there ever was a director’s cut of this film. And although it is cultural appropriation of the worst kind, I just know me and my friends will be playing these characters at each other for a long time coming.
However, unlike Paris is Burning, doing these impersonations does not leave a bitter taste in my mouth, as there is no deeply tragic ending to this film. In fact, that is what is quietly revolutionary about this film. Finally, a movie where transgender lives are not played for tragedy, like a disability that can be mined by actors with their eyes on awards. Although hostility and violence do lurk in the margins, in subtle moments like Sin-Dee’s slight fear when she is in the subway and the memorable scene that leads to the film’s affirming ending, the characters in Tangerine are always presented as real people in a real community, rather than terrifyingly alone misfits. It is an equally strong portrait of this world as Richard Linklater’s Slacker (a clear cousin to this film) is of Austin. That it manages to be compared to Slacker whilst featuring moments and dialogue that would not be out of place in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos shows the tightrope this film is walking on, and it does it without any loss of balance, and with a blaring trap soundtrack.
This is the transgender equivalent of what happened for gay men between a film like the paranoid Victim to the exuberant Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which in reality is far some rich white ex-Kardashian appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair.The film manages to make all of these subtle observations and statements without ever shying away, ‘The Danish Girl’-style, from the less palatable aspects of transgender survival.
Looking for more film reviews only slightly related to what you just read? Well you’re in luck!
Did you think to yourself ‘yeah, this blog is good, but I’d prefer it if it was in 140 character chunks or entirely picture based?’ We’ve got you covered: