Tangerine is a testament to film's step in the right direction, and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. These past few months have been monumental for the LGBT community—most notably with Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality—and it's seen a lot more pop culture visibility as well (see: Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Caitlyn Jenner). Tangerine gives another platform for trans voices, but director Sean Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch's latest indie doesn't let the struggles of being a transgender woman swallow up their comedy. At its core, this is a hilarious movie; it just happens to star two transgender women as the lead. That alone is worthy of note.
The film centers around two hookers, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)—both played by actual trans women. It's Christmas Eve and Sin-Dee Rella has just gotten out of prison, hoping to be reunited with her boyfriend Chester (James Ransone). But Alexandra breaks the news that he's been cheating on her with a "fish" ("A real fish?" "Yeah bitch, like a real fish girl, like a vagina and everything"). From there, it's a riotous roller coaster of a ride as Sin-Dee, bloodthirsty for revenge, tears through a tangerine-soaked Los Angeles looking for this fish. Sin-Dee has three D's on her mind: Chester (ahem), drama, and this fish, whose name is Dinah or Destiny or Desiree—she's not so sure herself.
The film has excellent bookends—with a donut shop called Donut Time playing a big role (donuts—a metaphor?)—but it's got a messy middle that arguably helps the film in its unique voice. It is, after all, about a messy situation. There's also an Armenian cab driver involved in this whole thing, seemingly out of place at first but who finds his place nicely in the donut shop finale.
Tangerine is also an example of how much film can accomplish on a DIY ethos. One of the many talked about aspects of this film is the fact that it was shot entirely on an iPhone 5 (using an anamorphic lens to help with the cinematic quality), which is an impressive feat on its own. Because of the equipment, there's a very in-the-moment vibe of the film—as if Baker were just Vining his friends doing ridiculous things. It makes you feel like a Donut Time customer, witnessing the drama go down in a Michael-Jackson-eating-popcorn.gif kind of way.
But beyond the appeal of watching people cause a scene—as people with such huge personalities tend to do when they clash—it's the film's humanity that ties things nicely. Everyone wants love—or at least the illusion of it—and getting your heart broken can result in dragging some bitch through the streets of L.A. by her hair. It's bittersweet, you know? Kind of like a tangerine.
Above all, the film proves that with strong writing and vision, lack of equipment ain't no obstacle to cinematic dreams. That last shot of Alexandra and Sin-Dee, especially, is Instagram-worthy. If you're looking for something funny and a little bit wacky to sink into this weekend, try Tangerine.
Tangerine is out July 10.