If there’s one minority group that has a hard time finding representation on movie screens, it’s the transgender community. The Danish Girl may have signalled that the tide is beginning to turn, but came under flak for casting cisgender Eddie Redmayne in the eponymous role, and for being yet another isn’t-Eddie-Redmayne-so-sad-cue-tinkly-piano-music piece of Oscar bait. A much more interesting film appeared around the same time, albeit on very limited release – Tangerine.
Sean S. Baker’s movie follows transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Taylor). Sin-Dee finds out that her boyfriend and pimp Chester (The Wire’s James Ransone) has been cheating on her, so angrily sets out to confront him. Meanwhile, Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karagulian) cruises the LA streets looking for trans prostitutes; a pastime his family is unaware of.
It may sound light on plot, and indeed it is, but this is a film very much in the realist tradition. Rodriguez and Taylor genuinely were sex workers in this environment before turning to acting, which gives the performances a real verisimilitude and makes Sin-Dee and Alexandra a lot of fun to spend time with, with their breakneck-paced banter and bitching providing several genuinely funny moments.
But these funny moments are juxtaposed with sad ones, and the two girls are never far away from someone ready to use or abuse them; men seeming to be clients call Sin-Dee over to their car, only to throw urine in her face and drive off screaming transphobic insults. Sadly, these moments are also all too believable. The story is never melodramatic or over-plotted; rather, this series of moments, happy and sad, is a typical day in the life of people like Sin-Dee and Alexandra, and all the more affecting for it.
What’s also remarkable is the way Tangerine was shot – on the iPhone 5s. Though the opening scene, a typical two-way conversation in a diner, does feel oddly clunky, worries are soon assuaged by the remarkable handheld shots sweeping through LA’s busy neighbourhoods. Honestly, it’s filmed with more energy and style than many movies with a hundred times the budget – a reminder that a bank-breakingly expensive kit is no longer needed to make a great film.
And that’s important, because the community Tangerine explores would undoubtedly be considered too niche for a major studio to consider making a film about, and yet transgender sex workers are just as worthy of depiction in cinema as hardened snipers or intrepid journalists. This slice of modern realism is both poignant and funny; if you weren’t able to catch it on its narrow cinema release, make sure you pick up the DVD.
Special features: only a ‘visual style test’. Which is a shame, as BTS material explaining the unconventional shooting methods would be genuinely interesting.
DVD REVIEW: TANGERINE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SEAN S. BAKER / SCREENPLAY: SEAN S. BAKER, CHRIS BERGOCH / STARRING: KITANA KIKI RODRIGUEZ, MYA TAYLOR, KARREN KARAGULIAN / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 28TH