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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Tangerine’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Tangerine'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

Dir: Sean Baker
Criticwire Average: A-

Director Sean Baker’s new film “Tangerine” has been capturing the hearts and minds of critics since its premiere at Sundance. The film is set on Christmas Eve when Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender prostitute, has just finished a short prison sentence. She meets her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), another transgender prostitute, who informs her that Chester (James Ransone), her boyfriend and pimp, has been cheating on her with a “white fish,” a white cisgender woman. Furious at his betrayal, Sin-Dee travels across Hollywood with Alexandra to confront Chester about his infidelity. “Tangerine’s” script has an old-fashioned screwball/farce vibe to it, but it features characters that Hollywood usually ignores. Critics have praised Baker for not infusing his story with melodrama about transgender identity. Instead, “Tangerine” accepts Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s identities at face value and allows the story to blossom from there. Other critcs have also praised the sun-drenched, ratty visual sense courtesy of an iPhone as it captures the harsh beauty of the two heroes’ circumstances. Overall, “Tangerine” depicts the lives of people living on the fringe with empathy and grace, and ultimately encouraging its audiences to do the same.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club

The script, by Baker and Chris Bergoch, is essentially an old-fashioned stage farce — complete with a harridan mother-in-law and a big ending commotion — spread out over several miles of city and transposed into a social stratum that’s somewhere below the bottom. Johns are serviced in automatic car washes, wigs are ruined, and plenty of meth gets smoked in bathrooms, motel rooms, and out on the street. Baker (“Starlet,” “Greg The Bunny”) traffics in the big and broad, but his aesthetic here is totally ratty; at times, the movie’s imagery, frenetic movement, and distorted wide-angle close-ups bring to mind “Crank: High Voltage” and “Inland Empire” crossed with a low-budget music video. Of course, the shot-on-an-iPhone aspect — which ends up looking much better than it probably should — creates a tenuous sense of reality, in which the viewer is never completely sure who is an actor and who is merely a bystander. It helps that Rodriguez and Taylor are total hams. Over-exaggerated and rapid-fire, their performances don’t register as acting in the conventional sense; instead, it just feels as though the camera — or camera phone, in this case — were following them around. Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Writer-director Sean Baker has explored the lives of marginalized American characters in an ever-fascinating series of unorthodox projects. These have ranged from hustling lower class immigrants in “Take Out” and “Prince of Broadway” to the travails of a meandering porn actress in “Starlet,” for which Baker brought the same nuanced approach to an unlikely target. His latest movie “Tangerine” feels more in tune with the two earlier features, which is a very good thing: In this ramshackle and wildly entertaining romp, as two transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles endure various dramas on Christmas eve, Baker once again manages to match underrepresented faces in American cinema with material that lets their personalities shine. More specifically, “Tangerine” calls to mind “Prince of Broadway,” which blended the naturalistic portrait of a Chinatown purse smuggler with a story of reluctant fatherhood that wouldn’t seem out of place in a studio production. Similarly, “Tangerine” uses a crowdpleasing formula to explore figures typically reduced to caricature. Read more.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

That much is obvious the moment the movie opens on Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), face to face in a doughnut shop, a single sprinkled confection grandly set before them. Tight friends, Sin-Dee and Alexandra share much in common, including a taste for sweets, a weakness for men and absolute faith in the transformational power of a luxurious wig. Given the girl talk and high-pitched shrieks of laughter, you may not immediately notice that the women are transgender, with identities that speak to the cultural moment. “Tangerine” encompasses dizzying multitudes — it’s a neo-screwball chase flick with a dash of Rainer Werner Fassbinder — but mostly, movingly, it is a female-friendship movie about two people who each started life with an XY chromosome set. Read more.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Sean Baker’s Sundance crowd-pleaser “Tangerine” is a boisterous three-pronged farce that follows two transgender hookers and an Armenian male cabdriver through the seedier sections of Hollywood on Christmas Eve. Much of the attention for the movie has centered on its preposterously low shooting budget and camera, an iPhone 5s with a $7.99 high-def app, a Steadicam rig, and the odd anamorphic lens. The focus on indie ultrapoverty is a bit misleading, though, since the postproduction spit and polish and slick soundtrack lift “Tangerine” far out of the shoestring class, and it isn’t adventurous narratively, either. What’s extraordinary about “Tangerine” is that it’s everything an entertaining, old-fashioned, mainstream Hollywood comedy should be but no longer is. That nowadays you have to get this kind of stuff via Sundance from directors using iPhones is a drag — the wrong kind. Read more.

Daniel Mecca, The Film Stage

This piece of Los Angeles explodes with life and character, thanks in large part to the fluid and exploratory narrative structure and the sun-kissed color palette from Baker and his co-cinematographer Radium Cheung. Propelled forward with a pounding soundtrack culled together by music supervisor Matthew Smith, we become quickly endeared to both Alexandra and Sin-Dee. This world lacks in the “otherness” so many minority characters are defined by in films big and small. Read more.

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