"I ain't no drag queen! I am losing sympathy for you by the minute."
I wish I had learned about TANGERINE differently than I did. My interests being what they are, I spend a fair bit of time on film blogs and indie news outlets, often with a "DIY filmmaking" bias. In this particular realm of online movie discourse, TANGERINE was getting a lot of buzz because it was shot entirely on an iPhone. This barest-bones-possible feature film with Sundance acclaim was basically fantasy fulfillment to my demographic of young, sheltered filmmaker-wannabes from Midwestern suburbia; it didn't even matter what the movie was about. "No more excuses," we cried in unison before seeing the movie, adding a photo of writer/director Sean Baker to our vision board right next to Shane Carruth. It's a shame the biggest talking point of TANGERINE is its production, because it's remarkable far beyond the "what'd you shoot that on?" conversation.
TANGERINE is lively as hell. The logline on IMDB.com reads: "A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart," which appears to be consistent with the official messaging on the film's website. I found this to be curiously misrepresentative of the movie, but it's almost certainly intentionally misleading. Nothing about that sentence is untrue, but it belies the subversion of everything traditional about TANGERINE. Sin-Dee (played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) headline this buddy/chase/Christmas tragicomedy as transgender sex workers seeking revenge on Chester, Sin-Dee's unfaithful boyfriend and pimp. The movie is fast, gritty, alternately mean-spirited and heartfelt, and supremely engaging in its aesthetic. Another reason that I wish I hadn't known this was shot on an iPhone is because I was looking out for telltale rolling shutter and focus imperfections -- of which there are a few, but nothing noticeable unless you were looking out for it. Besides the very occasional hiccup, the cinematography in TANGERINE is legitimately impressive. The sweeping tracking shots and wide low-angle symmetry coupled with pumping dance music make for a colorful, exciting aesthetic. TANGERINE is worth the buzz, and not just some production gimmick.
Tomorrow: On the Record