“Tangerine” has been cited as one of the many examples of movies that have been overlooked by the 2016 Academy Awards. It certainly has a very diverse cast, with two African-American transsexuals in the lead roles and an Armenian supporting character, highlighting how white actors seem to have gotten all the nominations this year. Although “Tangerine” may not be in the same league as films like “The Big Short” or “Spotlight,” it does shine a light on characters from the street of Los Angeles you rarely see portrayed on the big screen.
Another of the movie’s unique characteristics is the fact it was shot entirely with three iPhone 5s smartphones, proving that having a tiny budget shouldn’t stop you from making a good movie. Over time you become so engrossed in the story, as you should, that you forget about what camera director Sean S. Baker is using, but it does add a certain documentary feel to the story. This is enhanced by the fact there are no major names in the movie and that the story focuses on characters who in a bigger production would probably just be extras in a large crowd.
The action takes place on Christmas Eve, but you barely notice due to the warm Los Angeles weather as the cameras follow sex workers Sinn-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sinn-Dee is glad to be eating a donut with her friend after spending 28 days in prison, but the conversation quickly takes a turn when Alexandra lets slip that Sinn-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) cheated on her while she was behind bars. One might think it would be foolish to expect a pimp of all people to be a shining example of fidelity, but Sinn-Dee nevertheless storms out of the donut shop with the firm intention of tracking down the girl Chester slept with, then find Chester, and then possibly beat up the two of them.
As the sun sets and Sinn-Dee progresses with her search with Alexandra reluctantly in tow, they eventually cross paths with Razmik (Karen Karagulian) an Armenian taxi driver. An interesting movie could also be made about Razmik since like most taxi drivers in a major city he gets some very interesting customers in the back of his car, from a Native American who tells him the story behind his name, to drunken idiots who unfortunately puke in his car. Razmik has a wife and daughter, but sadly for him his mother-in-law is also there for dinner on Christmas Eve, and she correctly suspects he has a hidden agenda when he announces his intention to go back to work late in the evening.
All of the characters end up colliding at yet another donut shop, and when the revelations pile up things veer from funny to dramatic and eventually to quite sad. Despite her seemingly righteous search for retribution, Sinn-Dee comes off as somewhat grating and rude, and many of the other supporting characters are not that nice either. However by the movie’s end you not only find yourself enjoying their company, but feeling a lot of sympathy for them. One character ends up spending Christmas alone on the streets, and another is physically and verbally insulted because of her looks.
In addition to the strong performances from its leads, “Tangerine” does deserve recognition for featuring a diverse cast of characters who are usually ignored as people drive by them on the streets.
(“Tangerine” is now streaming on Netflix.)