When Tangerine was released, one of the main things that garnered attention was that it was filmed entirely on the iPhone 5s. As someone who is a sucker for creative, low-budget cinematography, Tangerine is worth watching for this factor alone. Director Sean Baker succeeds in making great use of the technology to capture some creative shots.
The other main point of interest about this film is that it stars transgender actresses as trans characters.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez stars as Sin-Dee Rella and Mya Taylor as Alexandra, two prostitutes living and working in Los Angeles. Whether you consider this a great example of trans representation is probably open to debate. While watching Tangerine, I couldn’t help but think that portraying trans women as sex workers is hardly anything new, and not a lot about Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s characterization challenges stereotypes. I also think there’s a valid question about how much a movie directed by a man can really do justice to a potentially stereotypical depiction of trans women. At the same time, it’s refreshing to see characters like Sin-Dee and Alexandra as the protagonists of their own story where they’re neither relegated to the background as stock characters nor required to behave in an idealized or saintly way. Sometimes working too hard to avoid stereotypes can also do a disservice to the characters. Both Rodriguez and Taylor bring life to their roles, and Rodriguez in particular imbues Sin-Dee with a level of energy and determination that’s addictive.
The plot takes place over the course of a single day and is as follows: Sin-Dee is released from jail on Christmas Eve after taking the fall on a drug rap for her boyfriend/pimp. Her friend, Alexandra, reveals that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend cheated on her while she was locked up, and Sin-Dee goes on a mission to find the other woman and confront her boyfriend. Alexandra, meanwhile, is torn between keeping Sin-Dee from doing something rash and preparing for the Christmas concert that she’s performing that evening. The story can sometimes feel meandering, and it’s not always clear how characters or events are connected until much later in the movie, which can be frustrating. The movie also feels very slice-of-life, so it would be a mistake to go into it expecting much plot development or resolution. But overall, I found myself invested in the characters and wanted to see what was going to happen.
Is it a great trans movie, or a great example of trans representation? That’s a deeper question that I can’t really answer. It is a movie that I think is worth seeing and evaluating for yourself.