There is a great movie hitting theaters this summer that isn”t getting enough attention. It's a movie that I've already seen twice and is currently in my top three of the year. In fact, I'd be shocked if it didn't make the top ten when all is said and done. Frustratingly, whether it”s because of summer movie madness, pop culture news events such as Comic-Con sucking up all of the attention or a lack of star power the movie isn't getting the hype it deserves. Well, honey, we're gonna give it to you.
A 24-hour comedy mostly set within a 10-block radius in Hollywood, Sean Baker's “Tangerine” pulses with an energy rarely seen in even independent cinema these days. The intoxicating adventure begins and ends with two best friends, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), two transgender sex workers living day by day with dreams of something more. When Sin-Dee gets out of a month long stint in County Jail Alexandra makes the mistake of telling her that her fiancé, Chester (“Treme's” James Ransone), has been fooling around a genetic girl. This sets Sin-Dee off and her anger fuels a mission to find the “hoe” and make Chester pay. Actually, she really has no idea what she wants, but she”s hurt and somehow believes a dramatic confrontation that could embarrass him will make things better.
Baker, who earned acclaim for his previous films “Starlet” and “Prince of Broadway,” shot the entire picture on iPhones fitted with special lenses. While the image was eventually treated in post-production it still provides an intoxicating perspective few films have pulled off. The idea that Baker and his co-cinematographer Radium Cheung were also able to create such beautiful imagery while working with a mostly inexperienced cast is an incredible feat. What really makes “Tangerine” stick with you, however, are the performances.
Not surprisingly, neither Taylor nor Rodriguez had ever acted before. Baker met both through LA's Gay and Lesbian Center (it should be noted he met Taylor first) and was captivated by the chemistry the two had together. What's so inspiring about “Tangerine” is the heart and depth both actresses give their characters. This isn't an over-the-top, campy comedy. There is something real in the friendship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra. The duo may never have considered acting before (Taylor is looking for more opportunities now), but they each have a natural charisma together that is too hard toe ignore.
“Tangerine” is one of three movies that have stuck with me since Sundance (the other two are “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Brooklyn”). In hindsight it should have absolutely been in competition in Park City and we simply do not understand why Cannes selected Sundance alum “Dope” for the Directors' Fortnight showcase instead over Baker”s effort. And it's not as though this a singular opinion. At the time of this post “Tangerine” has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 85 grade on Metacritic (including a complete rave from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times).
In a media environment where “Orange Is The New Black's” Laverne Cox is proudly on the cover of Time, “Transparent” is a critics' darling and Caitlyn Jenner is being hailed as a transgender pioneer we're still scratching our head wondering why this likely the first time you've ever heard of “Tangerine.” Putting that concern aside it's the sort of bravura filmmaking that should be as buzzed about as “It Follows” was earlier this year. Thankfully, there”s still time to get that ball rolling.
For a taste of “Tangerine” and an introduction to Taylor and Rodriguez you can check out my interview with the duo as well as Baker in the video embedded at the top of this post. It's an enlightening conversation about what is simply one of the best films of the year.
And yes, Magnolia Pictures. You can use that pull quote whenever you'd like.
“Tangerine” is now playing in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.