Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Movie Review: "Tangerine" (2015)

© Magnolia Pictures

The most surprising movie of the year, this film festival darling became the talk of Sundance because it was filmed entirely on an iPhone 5—with the help of some pretty cool attachments—making it as close to urban, guerrilla filmmaking as you can get. Especially as it relates to a fictional dramedy like Tangerine, filmed in the heart of Tinseltown where there's quite a bit more hustle than tinsel. But it isn't the way it was filmed that makes it such a resounding success. The most original story about the city of Hollywood to come out, probably ever, is like a verbal assault grounded in gritty, sun-kissed visuals.

We're introduced to two transgender prostitutes working the Santa Monica / Highland block of Hollywood, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez). Over the course of one exhausting day—more specifically, Christmas Eve—the just-released-from-prison Sin-Dee goes in search of her boyfriend/pimp, Chester (James Ransone), after Alexandra reveals he's been cheating on her during her time in jail. To make things worse, the new girl is a "fish" (aka cisgender female). And then SHIT. GETS. REAL.

Writer/Director Sean Baker couldn't have known at the time how prevalent the conversation surrounding trans and minority issues would be at this exact moment, but that's what you call kismet. Tangerine has come at exactly the right time, a reverse perspective to the glamour of Caitlyn Jenner that highlights the dark side of the urban trans community with a spark of ingenious humor. The fact that he pitched the story knowing only one thing to start—that the film's climax would take place at Donut Time—bawls me over with glee. The acting, particularly from Rodriguez, is so impressive, it almost isn't acting at all. There are moments you forget you're not watching a sordid documentary, but then again, that's what makes it represent life so effectively.

If like me you know the streets of Hollywood like the back of your hand, but only from behind the wheel of a car, experiencing the city on foot alongside Sin-Dee and Alexandra is oddly familiar and electrifying. The neon-lit Hamburger Mary's where we go to Drag Queen Bingo on Wednesdays... the seedy corner strip mall housing Crown of India where we'd pick up Indian take-out for TV marathon sessions... the corpse of Irv's Burgers' former location, boarded up, dark and abandoned... all of this streams past in the background during the day's shenanigans, adding boundless character to the real city of Los Angeles.

Add on top of that the characters themselves, who embody everyone you'd ever try to avoid on your way to Laurel Hardware on foot because you had to park five blocks away. Avoid eye contact and pretend you can't hear the maniacal laughter and screaming coming from two crazies power-walking their asses down Santa Monica Blvd. Tangerine is in part about those people, shining a light on their lives, their struggles, and most interestingly, their dramas. But it's also about friendship, trying to make it in a world that would rather pretend you're not there. An honest story completely devoid of irony or false hipness, a rarity to say the least.

The cherry on top of this perfect cake is the music, orchestral on a grand scale until it devolves into something out of dub-step, and we're taken on a uniquely wild ride. It's clear Baker understood how important the music would be in the editing of the movie, and nothing about its construction is lazy. We're presented a gorgeous, brilliant movie, made for less than $100,000, that has more personality, entertainment, and heart than any $100+ million flicks released this year. Up there with Mad Max: Fury Road as my favorite of 2015 (so far).

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars

[I can't recommend watching the trailer enough. Go! Do it!]

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