Almost like watching an Olympic event or eating some crazy molecular gastronomy entree, part of the fun of Tangerine is wondering, “How the heck did they do that?”
It spoils nothing to reveal that the extremely low-budget comedy was filmed entirely on an iPhone, a tidbit that will either make you marvel at the ingenuity of some creative people or make you hate yourself for all the time you waste checking Twitter when you could be filming an acclaimed feature about two transgender sex workers on a high-heeled road trip through some of the seedier parts of Hollywood.
Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just gotten out of jail and,almost immediately, she learns her pimp has been two-timing her while she was in the slammer. That sets her off like a rocket through the sun-drenched streets (and dank hotel rooms) of Los Angeles, sometimes accompanied by her slightly classier frenemy, Alexander (Mya Taylor).
Both Rodriguez and Taylor are first-time actresses, and both are spectacular. Tangerine gets much of its energy from the energetic shooting style of writer/director Sean Baker and from the hilarious ways his leads respond to the off-the-cuff developments they must face on the way to an encounter with the film’s offending pimp.
The best bet for enjoying Tangerine is to appreciate the journey, and maybe, not to think too much about it. I was discomfited by a third story strand, involving a cab driver who frequents transgender hookers, and by the puzzling gender politics that become an issue in the increasingly unlikely final scenes.
While it’s cool to see a movie that presents its transgender leads with a no-big-deal attitude, it’s not cool every biological female in it is stupid, mean or both.
It’s a fun movie, to be sure, and perhaps a ground-breaking one, but that misogyny does give Tangerine a sour aftertaste.
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransome.
Director: Sean Baker.
Screenwriters: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 88 minutes. Vulgar language, disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Wynwood.