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by Jay Seaver

"Wind her up and let her go."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One almost wants "Tangerine" to get through its entire length without any sort of real consequences, because the movie Sean Baker has built moves forward with such great chaotic energy that actually slowing down enough for someone to actually accomplish something substantive seems like it could throw everything off the rails. It kind of does, but mostly in the right way.

It starts out introducing the audience to Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), a couple of transsexual prostitutes sharing a donut because they are broke, especially with Sin-Dee just out of jail - and she is not happy to hear that her pimp/boyfriend Chester has been cheating on her with some white girl with a vagina. She's off to find out what's going on, Alexandra saying she wants no part of any drama (although what did she think was going to happen when she let that slip?). Elsewhere in West Hollywood, Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) plies his trade, although it seems like he would rather have a few minutes with one of these girls with something extra than go back home to where his mother-in-law has set up shop.

Sin-Dee and Tangerine as a film both feel kind of like wind-up toys as they start, something has cranked a bunch of tension into her spring and then dropped her into a situation, sending her bouncing off various obstacles but keeping her pointed in the general direction she wants to go. It might almost be too frantic if it wasn't regularly interspersed with Razmik dealing with various sorts of deadpan awkwardness, keeping the movie from burning itself out too early. Instead, it manages to be pretty explosively funny, and not just because the film has the ability to shock: Situations that get big initial laughs are allowed to recharge their batteries rather than drag out, while new characters being introduced and others going their separate ways keeps things fairly fresh.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are probably the biggest parts of why these jokes work, though - they may be playing loud, somewhat stereotypical characters, but they're also playing classic comedy types as the ditzy loose cannon and the more sensible best friend who, though her boiling point may be higher, can explode just as violently. They're the sort of odd couple that you can probably drop in a lot of situations and have funny events transpire, and their low spot on the societal totem pole here is perfect for this sort of comedy, with Rodriguez's Sin-Dee having no reason not to be brazen in taking or defending what she feels is hers and Taylor's Alexandra trying to grasp upward, even if it means she's probably not making a lot of friends in doing so.

That being part of the low life is what makes the film a bit more interesting and dramatic amid the shrieking hysterics; Sin-Dee and Alexandra have so damn little, especially when considering how present-day society doesn't afford the transgendered a lot of respect, that it's not hard to cut them a lot of slack as they grab for what they want or view Razmik in a fairly positive light just because he seems to like them. As the movie goes on, though, it becomes more and more clear that these people are in a toxic situation, and while the silent implication is that there aren't a lot of better/more respectable options available in many cases, Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch do a good job of making sure that the audience as much as the characters has to make their peace with that, especially with any sort of story that would easily lift the characters out of their situation out of reach.

Given how the characters and their world are on the fringes, it's not surprising that Baker and company made this on a shoestring; what is surprising is just how impressive it winds up looking. The film was shot on mobile phones which weren't given particularly fancy upgrades, but more impressive than the capture technology we carry in our pockets these days is how Baker and fellow cinematographer Radium Cheung take this sort of equipment and make shots that race down a street without feeling jittery or over-processed; the camera almost feels virtual at times. The tricky transition from day to night is handled smoothly, and the world the characters inhabit often seems right on the edge of being hidden - like one wouldn't see it if not looking for it.

"Tangerine" is getting a lot of attention both for its unconventional heroines and for being the latest data point in how you can now make a professional movie with very commonplace equipment, and it should. Just as important, though, is that it doesn't need to be a pioneer to be recommended - it's funny and smart despite its characters frequently being dumb, and will likely keep entertaining long after the novelty wears off.

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originally posted: 07/16/15 04:47:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Las Vegas Film Festival For more in the 2015 Las Vegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 London Film Festival For more in the 2015 London Film Festival series, click here.

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  10-Jul-2015 (R)
  DVD: 10-Oct-2015


  DVD: 10-Oct-2015

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