Despite rave reviews, stellar performances from unknown actors and buzz on social media, Tangerine is one of the best films of the year that people will never see. While the Oscar buzz is all about typical flicks like Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies and Spotlight, this Sean Baker-directed movie outshines nearly every movie of 2015. Raw, original and timely, please be sure to treat yourself to Tangerine.
Filmed entirely on an iPhone 5, the film stars two transgender women playing transgender characters, which is quite groundbreaking considering most trans roles are played by someone who is cisgender. From the first frame, Baker captures the viewer with strange camera angles, hyper colors and a killer score. Most important is the engaging storyline aboout a day in the life of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles. There are no photoshoots, magazine covers or reality shows. This is a film about the real-life struggles of being trans yet with comic relief — because no matter how hard life can be, you can still find the humor.
Starring newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee and Mya Taylor as Alexandra, they are stomping the streets looking for money, safety, friendship and love. Rodriguez and Taylor carry the film like pros, nailing the comedic timing, subtle drama and generally delivering awesome performances. Baker has said much of the storyline came from Rodriguez and Taylor themselves, which makes sense considering Tangerine does not feel like an outsider's perspective: the film is seriously authentic. Taylor and Rodriguez might just be worthy of writing and directing credits, as Baker clearly could not have created the script on his own and popped in actors to recite lines. Many of the actors were found on the streets of Los Angeles.
There is a moment when Tangerine is about to go off the rails. Much of the film is the two women blurting out one-liners, which is funny and entertaining but there is more depth to trans sex workers than being sassy and street smart. Thankfully, the last five minutes superbly pull the film together, allowing Taylor and Rodriguez to show off their acting chops. By the last frame, Baker adds nuance and a cinematic heart to a complicated world of wit and survival.
For a look at another authentic and groundbreaking film about the LGBT experience, watch the BET.com original documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church below:
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(Photo: Duplass Brothers Productions / Through Films)