As it happens, the least mainstream of the three featured films reviewed this week is also by far the best movie in terms of its innovation and huge capacity for enjoyment. So take that, Hollywood.
Your interest may initially be piqued by the fascinating technical fact that Tangerine was filmed entirely on an iPhone 5s, because of the capacity to shoot with first-time performers and amateur extras in a subtle, unintimidating way. It was also made on a devastatingly small budget, as evidenced by its gritty, fresh-off-the-streets, real-people-as-actors set up. And it scored enormous critical acclaim at Sundance.
But wait, there’s more.
Definitely not to be confused with this year’s earlier release Tangerines (a comparatively sedate affair about prejudice and brotherhood in war-torn Estonia), the singular Tangerine follows a Christmas Eve in the life of two transgender working girls who traverse the streets of LA as Sin-Dee goes on the hunt for her cheat of a boyfriend (Generation Kill’s James Ransone), accompanied by her best friend Alexandra.
Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are sensational in the lead roles, captivating from the very opening scene despite (or perhaps because of) the tirelessly energetic “bitch!”-this and “hey girl!”-that which punctuates their frenetic journey about town. En route to an ultimately hilarious confrontation in a doughnut shop, the girls encounter clients of varying degrees of niceness, show plenty of chutzpah and still manage to deliver scenes of great pathos.
Writer-director Sean Baker (whose Starlet played the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2012) has crushed the mold of low-budget, independent filmmaking, using ubiquitous technology and (extra)ordinary people to create a wild ride for audience members whose eyes will be opened wide by this peek into the sex trade. He even employs stalwarts of Armenian cinema in the film’s intriguing sub-plot. As a result, Tangerine is fresh, funny, and entertaining as heck – exactly what independent cinema should be.