Directed, edited, and co-shot by Sean Baker and written and casted by Baker and Chris Bergoch, Tangerine is the story of a transgender sex worker who learns her pimp/boyfriend has been cheating on her following her 28-day prison stay as she joins a friend in trying to get money during Christmas Eve. The film is an exploration of two sex workers who try to uncover some truth while dealing with other things as they work in Los Angeles. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, and James Ransone. Tangerine is an entrancing and riveting film from Sean Baker.
It’s Christmas Eve as a transgender prostitute has returned from a 28-day prison stay where her friend revealed that her pimp/boyfriend has been cheating on her prompting this woman to find him and his new girlfriend while also trying to get some money in their profession. It is a film that has a simple premise that also include a subplot involving an Armenian cab driver trying to get his own fix as he knows the two women as one of them is doing a show singing at a club later in the night. The film’s screenplay by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch is largely straightforward though it would have a trio of narrative strands that involve the activities of the sex workers Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as well as the Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) throughout the course of an entire day. Notably as Sin-Dee tries to find her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) over accusations that he’s been cheating on her with another prostitute while Alexandra tries to defuse the situation while wanting people to come see her perform at a club with Razmik promising to attend despite having to attend a Xmas family dinner around the same time.
Baker’s direction is definitely ravishing in terms of the fact that he shoots the film largely on three iPhone 5S smartphones with co-cinematographer Radium Cheung as it is also shot on exact locations in Hollywood, California including areas such as West Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevard. Baker’s direction has this air of realism to the film in the way it’s shot as if it is presented in a form of cinema verite while also using Steadicams for some tracking shots in the city where Baker uses a lot of wide and medium shots to capture characters walking on the street and the surroundings they’re in. There’s also some close-ups in scenes inside Razmik’s cab or in some of the places where characters go into a room or a place as well as scene where Sin-Dee and another sex worker in Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) smoke some meth in the bathroom as a way to make peace since Dinah is Chester’s new mistress.
Also serving as the editor, Baker maintains a sense of style in the visual presentation with some jump-cuts in the editing as it adds to the film’s offbeat presentation while he and Cheung maintain a sense of naturalism into their photography as it has this colorful presentation. Notably in some of daytime/evening scenes where there is this air of beauty in many of the exterior settings while not straying from the story in order to showcase the struggles that Sin-Dee and Alexandra have to endure in being transgender as well as Razmik’s desire for sexual satisfaction. The film’s third act that involves Alexandra’s own performance at a club also play into Razmik’s own family drama as well as a confrontation between Sin-Dee and Chester. There is that sense of realism in these locations and dramatic moments that occur including the fact that these two transgender workers are outsiders but do whatever they can to thrive on no matter the bullshit they have to deal with. Overall, Baker crafts a ravishing and intoxicating film about a day in the life of two transgender workers dealing with personal issues and such during Christmas Eve.
Costume designer Shih-Ching Tsou does nice work with the costumes to play into the look of both Sin-Dee and Alexandra as well as the wigs they wear to play up their need to attract customers. Sound editor Jeremy Grody does excellent work with the sound as it play into the way music sounds on location or in a car as well as other sounds on location. Music supervisor Matthew Hearon-Smith creates an incredible music soundtrack that features an array of music ranging from classical, holiday, hip-hop, pop, and electronic music from acts such as Mya Taylor, Harry Horlick and his Orchestra, DJ Heemie & DJ Lightup, White Night Ghosts, Haterade & Skellism, Sirusho, Mr. Batou, Matthew Engst & Tobias Karlsson, Mariachi De Maiz, Ludwig van Beethoven, BrainDeaD, Neil Davidge with Stephonik, and Duwell.
The film’s casting by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch is wonderful as it feature an array of mostly non-actors including costume designer Shih-Ching Tsou as the donut shop owner, Jason Stuart as a club doorman in Joey, Josh Sussman as a drunk guy who vomits in Razmik’s cab, porn star Ana Foxxx as a prostitute that Razmik tries to have sex with only to realize what she doesn’t have, Arsen Grigoryan as a fellow Armenian cab driver, Ian Edwards as a businessman named Nash, Julie Cummings and Rae L. Siskind as a couple of cops who deal with an incident involving Alexandra and a customer, Scott Krinsky as Alexandra’s customer who couldn’t get hard, Richard-Lael Lillard as a woman in a motel room who runs a ring for Chester, and Clu Gulager as an old man who is part Cherokee.
Louisa Nersisyan and Alla Tumanian are fantastic in their respective roles as Razmik’s wife Yeva and mother-in-law Ashken as the former is a woman that is just trying to have a good family dinner while not wanting to know what her husband does while the latter is nosy and ends up making a lot of trouble during the donut shop scene late in the film. Karren Karagulian is excellent as Razmik as an Armenian cab driver spending the day to do his job while also wanting some sexual satisfaction as he prefers transgender over real women as he is also friends with Sin-Dee and Alexandra as that friendship would put him in trouble. Mickey O’Hagan is brilliant as Dinah as Chester’s mistress/bottom bitch whom Sin-Dee accuses of being his mistress as she is dragged by Sin-Dee to find Chester while also revealing to be someone who has been used by him as she often has something funny to say.
James Ransone is amazing as Chester as Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp who is seen in the film’s third act as someone that is just trying to do his business while also bullshitting everyone about what he does including why Sin-Dee went to jail. Finally, there’s the duo of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in incredible leading performances in their respective roles as Sin-Dee and Alexandra with the former being full of energy and aggression as a transgender sex worker who feels wronged and is trying to get answers after being in jail for 28 days. Taylor’s performance as the latter is more subdued but also has some charm and energy as someone trying to get everyone to watch her sing as well as to calm things down. Rodriguez and Taylor together have amazing chemistry in the way they feel ostracized by society as well as being part of a community struggling to be part of an inclusive world yet they’re also people who are just trying to get their money and have a nice Christmas Eve.
Tangerine is a phenomenal film from Sean Baker. Featuring a great ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, a hypnotic music soundtrack, and its exploration of transgender sex workers trying to deal with the bullshit of society. It is a film that is raw yet entrancing in its presentation while also showing a world where a couple of transgender women just trying to get some money during the Christmas holidays and enjoy themselves despite the bullshit they often have to deal with. In the end, Tangerine is a sensational film from Sean Baker.
Sean Baker Films: (Four Letter Words) – (Take Out (2004 film)) – (Prince of Broadway) – (Starlet (2012 film)) – The Florida Project - (Red Rocket)
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