Saturday, September 26, 2015


Although Tangerine played at the Castro Theater on Tuesday, I saw it last Friday at the Roxie.  To be specific, I saw it at the Little Roxie which seems a more appropriate venue than the cavernous Castro for a small independent film like Tangerine.

Tangerine starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor; directed by Sean Baker; (2015) - Official Website

Tangerine premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  It has received quite a bit of press because it was filmed on iPhones using an $8 app.  It also screened at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film is a screwball comedy set among the tranny streetwalkers in Hollywood.  The protagonist is Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who is just out of a 30 day lockup.  She meets up with her friend and fellow tranny hooker Alexandra (Mya Taylor).  Alexandra lets slip that Sin Dee's boyfriend & pimp has been cheating on her with a woman as in "born with a vagina" woman.  These transgender terms are always hard for me to convey.

This propels Sin Dee to search the back alleys and sleazy motels for the elusive Dinah.  Along the way, we get a glimpse into the lives of Alexandra (who wants to be a singer) and an Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) who likes to pick up the trans streetwalkers and go down on them.

This all sounds sordid.  There is a scene where Sin Dee finds Dinah in a cheap motel giving a blowjob in the shower which is outrageous enough to give one pause.  For some reason, there is a light-heartedness to the film which belies its seedy environs.

Alexandra spends most of the film giving out flyers to her performance at a club.  No one shows up except Sin Dee with Dinah forcibly in tow.  It turns out Alexandra has to pay the club to perform.  It's sad and funny which describes many of the scenes in Tangerine.

The finale is set in a donut shop where Razmik, his mother-in-law, wife, infant child, Dinah, Sin Dee, Alexandra, Sin Dee's pimp Chester (James Ransone) and the Asian proprietor of the shop converge.  It reminded me of one of those Golden Age comedies where the characters converge in the end and their secrets are exposed.  Actually, while watching Tangerine, it felt vaguely familiar because it was a pastiche of genres & influences.  It was a screwball comedy, a road trip except Sin Dee walked or took the bus everywhere and at times reminded me of the works of John Cassavetes and Abel Ferrara.  Tangerine carves out something unique though.  Any film that can have not one but two comic scenes of failed fellatio by streetwalkers gets my nod of approval.

If I recall correctly, actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor are long-time friends and tight-lipped about their past & present lives.  They had input in the character development.  The relationship between Sin Dee & Alexandra is the bedrock of the film.  Repeatedly, the depth of their friendship becomes apparent in their actions.  That gives the film an emotional foundation and makes these strange (for me) characters seems not so strange.

Tangerine is a niche film.  Certainly some people will be offended by it but ultimately it is a film about friendship & self-discovery.

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