“Merry Christmas Eve, Bitch.”
Tangerine was written and directed by names I don’t recognise and whose previous work I have never seen. The cast of Tangerine is populated by mainly non-professionals or first time actors, with the only person I’ve seen before being Ziggy from season two of The Wire. Tangerine was the buzz of Sundance for reasons that I thought were purely gimmicky. Yet, for all of that, I watched the trailer for Tangerine and knew that I had to see it. Even if I hated it, I knew it would at least be interesting.
It’s Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. But there’s nothing glamorous about this version of LA. This is the LA that’s full of depressing looking strip malls, multi lane roads to nowhere, and hookers on every corner with more than enough skeevy johns to keep them in business. One of those hookers is the trans gendered Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodreguiez). Back from a 28 day stint in jail, Sin-Dee learns from her best friend (Mya Taylor as Alexandra), that her pimp (James Ransone as Chester) has been cheating on her while she was on the inside. The fact that the pimp’s new girl is a natural woman only angers Sin-Dee more.
While Sin-Dee sets off looking for the other woman and revenge, Alexandra drums up business for a show she’s performing that night and makes a few bucks by hooking up with regular customer and cab driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian). Razmik is having his own day from hell with a barrage of dodgy passengers. Bouncing from one low rent location to another, the characters and their respective quests play out over the course of a single day.
When I knew I’d be watching Tangerine, I decided I wasn’t going to mention the fact that it was shot entirely on iPhones. I didn’t want to mention it because every single other article and interview I’ve read about it has been so quick to write about that, and mainly that. So, I felt like it had been covered. But I also felt like it was irrelevant. I don’t think the conditions under which a movie was shot should have anything to do with a person’s assessment of the finished product,. Either it works, to it doesn’t. Those behind the scenes aspects shouldn’t effect that appraisal.
Now that I’ve seen Tangerine, I absolutely have to mention that it was shot entirely on iPhones. Not because I think that is some great achievement, or ground breaking evolution in film making, or quirky gimmick. But because Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen. The colours pop more than the highest end digital camera footage. And the camera movements are more agile than any heavy film camera could ever be. The ugly world of this movie ends up looking strangely beautiful.