Rarely does a movie come around that hooks you in from the first shot and keeps you hooked until the credits roll, at which point you’ve gotten so attached to everything in the film that you legitimately mourn its end. That is exactly what happened when I watched Sean S. Baker’s fantastic, hilarious and endearing newest feature Tangerine.
Tangerine is the story of two transwomen who are best friends and also happen to be prostitutes. Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from a 28-day stint in jail and reunites with Alexandra (Mya Taylor) to catch up and get back into the swing of their lives in sunny Los Angeles, which is enveloped in a saturated, sunny orange, even on Christmas Eve, giving reason to the film’s title. Shot entirely on an iPhone, this film is bold and brave in anything it does.
When Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp, Chester, has been cheating on her, Sin-Dee–stubborn, no-nonsense and emotional–sets out to find and confront both the homewrecker and Chester. Along the way, we see Sin-Dee interact and reunite with her fellow trans street workers, Alexandra separate from Sin-Dee to prepare for her upcoming performance, and a seemingly unrelated story of an Armenian taxi driver making his rounds.
Tangerine is bursting with colourful characters and so flawlessly weaves together the various storylines that it’s actually impressive. Sin-Dee, Alexandra and Razmik (the cab driver) swoon into and around each other before finally getting tangled in an explosive knot at the film’s climax. There’s also a healthy sprinkling of sassy humour and perfect dialogue filled with colourful slang terms that, as a woman of words, I can’t help but admire.
The most interesting thing about Tangerine is the one thing that’s the most played down and that’s the fact that it’s about two transwomen. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why it’s a couple of trans prostitutes who are the main characters of this film, but it is interesting to see their interactions with both cisgendered men and women as well as with other transwomen.
Where Sin-Dee refuses to acknowledge the fact that she was born in a man’s body, Alexandra, who is pre-op, uses her situation as a double-edged sword. In one scene, a John refuses to pay her the money she earned and when he fights her, she retorts, “You forget that I’ve got a dick, too!” There’s two points I concluded from this scene: the first is that Alexandra has learned early on that being a woman will only get her so far, and so she pulls the anatomic male card when necessary. The second thing is the surprisingly body positivity she exudes. The general understanding tends to be that transfolk are embarrassed of or hate their birth genitals, but Alexandra displays a new perspective on that. Alexandra is a woman. Alexandra has a penis. Alexandra sees no reason why those those facts cannot coexist, and her attitude towards her body is refreshing.
Similarly, it is discovered that Razmik not only likes to keep the company of prostitutes, but only lends his time to transwomen. His M.O. is to pay them to give them a blow job. The reason for this preference is never given and, to be honest, it’s not at all necessary because to each his own and all that jazz. It’s interesting to note that not only does Razmik risk his entire culturally traditional family life in order to get his kicks from L.A. streetwalkers, but he does it with trans streetwalkers, an aspect of human sexuality that his traditional Armenian culture doesn’t look so kindly on.
Another great thing about this film is the girl power mentality that runs throughout it. It’s remarkable because it’s an attitude of togetherness with your fellow woman without isolating or blaming the men. The men in the movie are never the “others” even when they are guilty of causing pain are generally assholes. Despite that, the girls in this film are companions and there is a definite air of sisterhood present which is seem most obviously between Sin-Dee and Dinah, the woman with whom Chester cheats.
Tangerine is what I hope will be the start of a whole new sort of chick flick, one that delves deeper into the complicated levels of womanhood. It’s the female equivalent to those bromedies everyone loves so much because it’s got the same sort of sentimentality, the same sort of humour (crude, clever and charming in turn) and the same sort of feel-good emotion that isn’t too cliché or overly sugary.
It’s rare for me to say it, but if I were you, I’d cancel my plans for the weekend and go check out this one-of-a-kind film ASAP.