The making of Sean Baker’s LA street drama must have been even more remarkable than the film itself. Shot on the fly, using iPhones with prototype anamorphic lenses, it features a cast of transgender women, most of them making their acting debuts. Like Coffee and Cigarettes or Smoke, but on substances a little stronger, it gives voice to the city’s prostitutes, pushers and passers-by, in the process rendering their extraordinary – to us, at least – lives ordinary.
Fiery Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), just out of prison for drug possession, meets best friend and fellow sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor) in a donut shop on Santa Monica Boulevard. Alexandra lets on that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend (read: pimp) Chester (James Ransom from Sinister) has been having sex with a “fish” (a derogatory term for a non-transgender woman) called Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan). So Sin-Dee sets out to track her down, promising “no drama”, which will become something of an ironic mantra.
Of course, when you look for it as Sin-Dee (and, indeed, Baker) does, there’s drama on every sun-bleached street corner – not least the eccentrics encountered by Razmik (Karren Karaguilian) in the back of his cab – and the film fizzes with borrowed backstories. Although funny (Alexandra describes Chester’s room as smelling of “homeless”) and convincing, most of the characters besides Alexandra are obnoxious, and thus hard to relate to. But there are transporting moments amid the crack and catfights: most notably a backroom reconciliation lit, gorgeously, by a glitterball. If LA, as we’re told, is “a beautifully wrapped lie”, represents an admirable attempt to peel back those layers.
‘Tangerine’ Movie Times