Film Review: Tangerine (2015)

Sean Baker has established himself as one those film makers who has captured the voice of those trying to find the American Dream. Those who struggle with daily lives or the voiceless, the downtrodden that society forgets about. One could say he’s like the Ken Loach of American cinema and his 2015 film Tangerine is a fantastic example.

Seven years after the film’s official release, thanks to Second Sight Films we get it’s proper home entertainment release. In the shape of a limited edition Blu-ray release with a host of interviews, features, 60 page book and art cards.

If many cinephiles call Die Hard a ‘Christmas movie’, Tangerine is as well. It’s set on 24th December which is off course Christmas Eve. This film has more a legitimate right to be called a festive feature than some.

Shot entirely on an iPhone 5a, Baker adopts the guerilla film-making style. Using anamorphic lens which gives the film a gorgeous widescreen look. This wasn’t the first film to adopt this style of film-making. This film did propel Baker into Hollywood spotlight. His next film, The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe had a bigger budget, bigger audience. Not losing any of the kinetic visual style.

Shot in actually on Christmas Eve 2013 wrapping mid-January 2014. Tangerine would woo audiences at Sundance Film Festival on 2015. The film stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as a Transgender sex worker on a mission of revenge against her cheating boyfriend pimp.

Set in and around down town Tinseltown Los Angeles Christmas Eve. Transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) has just been released from Jail. Spending time with fellow Transgender sex worker and friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor). She learns her pimp boyfriend (James Ransone) has been cheating. Off course she’s not pleased about the news which pushes her onto a warpath to find the girl he cheated with.

Alexandra is not too happy with Sin-Dee’s new mission, as she has her own mission. One that involves her singing at a local bar and getting other friends to come to that bar. Meanwhile Sin-Dee is full of rage and emotion, rips through the local joints looking for the guilty party. We also meet Razmik (Karren Karagulian) a local taxi driver who should be celebrating Christmas at home with his family. Who is cleaning his back seat thanks to vomiting drunks and getting ‘relief’ from Alexandra in a car wash. Also on a path with his domineering mother in law (Alla Tumanian) who suspects his son in law is up to no good.

There is that myth that having a massive budget, the best equipment your film will be better. Visually yes, critically that is not always the case. Tangerine is that fine example if you have a great, viable idea you don’t always need that blockbuster budget. This film is however far from perfect, it has many flaws just like humanity.

Amongst the chaos, Tangerine reminds us there is no Julia Roberts or Pretty Woman fairy tale going on here. Messy, full of struggles but also ray of lights of generosity, friendships that remind us there is hope and kindness. Plenty of normal people making bad choices, looking for redemption and trying to survive any way they can.

Every festive season mainstream media bombard us with a feverous saccharine dream that Christmas time is perfect. We all sit around the dining table eating turkey, watching festive films and watching Only Fools And Horses. Anyone sane person knows this can also be a lonely, isolating time for many. Sean Baker’s film never judges anyone especially as those we follow are seen as the marginalised in society.

Rodriguez and Taylor are the heart and soul of Tangerine. Both live in a bleak existence that’s harsh. Thanks to the camaraderie the pair have with each other make life sweeter for them. Sin-Dee may have a motormouth , Alexandra has the compassion to not react irrationally every time. It’s amazing to think our trans leading ladies where the non actors. Both delivering the banter and an improvised performance that felt natural and fun.

Tangerine is an unapologetic full-hearted film. That takes us down a rabbit hole that’s not living in the fantasy Alice In Wonderland universe. It’s sharp witted, occasionally funny intoxicating tale that will leave you smiling and bitter at the same time.

★★★★

Comedy, Drama | USA, 2015 | 15 | Blu-Ray | 19th December 2022 (UK) | Second Sight Films | Dir. Sean Baker | Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, James Ransone

Special Features 

  • Audio commentary with Cerise Howard and Rohan Spong
  • Merry F*cking Christmas: the making of Tangerine
  • Staying Authentic: an interview with Director Sean Baker
  • Honest and Hilarious: an interview with Actor Mya Taylor
  • The Magic Happens: an interview with Actor Karren Karagulian
  • Legit Bruises: an Interview with Actor Mickey O’Hagan
  • Just Hold It In!: an interview with Actor Josh Sussman
  • We Make It Work: an interview with Cinematographer Radium Cheung
  • It Was Electric!: an Interview with Writer Chris Bergoch
  • Many Hats: an interview with Producer Shih-Ching Tsou
  • Inside a Tangerine: an interview with Producer Darren Dean
  • To Be Real: Kat Ellinger on the Cinema of Sean Baker
  • Tangerine Camera Test

Limited Edition Contents

  • Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Caelin White
  • 60 page book with new essays by Caden Mark Gardner, Michelle Kisner, Shaadi Devereaux and Jerome Reuter.
  • 6 collectors’ art cards

This review was originally Posted at The Peoples Movies on 8th January 2023 | Original review link

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