Los Angeles, for filmmakers, has always been about achieving THE dream. When I got out of film school, most of my friends moved to LA, looking for work. But then, after a few months, nothing happened. Most of them found either very small menial work or nothing at all. And then they moved back to their parents. And then it occurred to me that moving there might be the wrong way to achieve my goals, my dreams. LA simply became a fantasy.
And that’s what I got out of watching Tangerine, watching the hopes and dreams of two Transgendered prostitutes in LA get trashed. The main takeaway being, nothing is what it seems. Tangerine is about a Transgendered prostitute, Sin-Dee, who after serving a month in prison is released back to her old haunt, Donut Time, where she tries to reconnect with her pimp who she is madly in love with. However, through her best friend, she discovers that he’s been cheating on her and on a quest she goes in search for Chester’s (the pimp) mysterious lover.
But the real heartbreaking moment for me was watching Sin-Dee’s friend Alexandra sing at an open mic at a club and no one shows up. This to me sums up Los Angeles and what my friends had gone through, albeit in a much more extreme way. Sin-Dee and Alexandra have dreams and probably did not want to go into prostitution but had to, to survive.
But that’s part of the story, part of the theme is also nothing is what it seems. While Sin-Dee goes on her quest, a cab driver named Razmic is picking up fares, which eventually leads him to use the money for something other than the care of his wife and daughter. Razmic hides a dark side to himself that his mother in law investigates. It is then, through the mother-in law’s rant inside a cab, that director Sean Baker and co-writer Craig Bergoch air their feelings about LA as a lie.
The story itself is well told in a fast paced style that keeps you glued throughout. But what fascinated me even more, because of my film background, was the look. The film was shot on several iPhone 5S. Most of the film was shot on location, mostly outdoors and the colors, lots of orange and yellow look great. I couldn’t believe this was shot on a smartphone. Only on the rare occasion, where it was indoors and dark could you make out some video noise, which looks mostly like grain. But the noise is minimal and very subtle. For the most part it looks great. And because the story is so good and keeps you on the edge, you forget that it was shot on a phone.
I highly recommend this film, partly because it reminds me of the really good classic independent films that came out of the 90s. I think, watching this, I’ve just witnessed another classic.