Tangerine deserves to be known as more than just the iPhone 5 movie
More commonly known as the film shot entirely on an iPhone 5, Sean Baker’s somewhat alternative Christmas film Tangerine follows 24 hours in the lives of transgender prostitues Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). In the sleazy alleyways and barely visible donut shops of West Hollywood, the two friends set off to look for the boyfriend/pimp who cheat on Sin-Dee while she was in prison.
Shot for around $100,000, Tangerine is noticeably rough and ready, with a grindhouse feel to the natural lighting and handheld camera style. If John Waters made his debut in 2015, Tangerine is exactly the sort of film he’d be directing. Though Baker’s way of filming could have made the film feel like a gimmick, it’s to his credit that you can’t imagine Tangerine working any other way than with low quality cameras and a tiny production budget.
The raw nature of the shoot also lends itself well to the performances; born out of lots of improvisation (Tangerine’s plot was suggested by Rodriguez), Rodriguez and Taylor give terrifically spirited performances, clearly aware that this may be their only chance in the spotlight. Rodriguez is the main centre of attention, all wild screaming and brutal putdowns, but it is Taylor’s sensitive performance that is the real heart of the film. Her Christmas concert, singing beautifully to an almost empty bar, is brutal to watch.
Tangerine is far from perfect, and it’s tiny budget and non-professional actors almost guaranteed it’s lack of finesse. The first half of the film feels aimless, cutting between the two prostitutes confronting different unmemorable characters and a taxi driver’s amusing if pointless conversations with his customers. It doesn’t help that Sin-Dee is such an over-the-top character, you will probably find yourself getting irritated by her incessant screaming and flailing fists.
Baker may not have the sharpest script or the biggest budget, but he does know what makes people tick; it’s hard to think of a portrayal of friendship in 2015 quite as original and honest as Tangerine. It may be known as the ‘iPhone 5’ film, but Tangerine should also be heralded for being an amusing and impressively raw portrayal of two friends in a tough situation.
By Harry Ford