Directed by Sean Baker
Starring a pair of first-time actresses and shot using an iPhone 5s over the course of only a few weeks, “Tangerine” was bound to have an amateur, unpolished feel to it. But there’s more to the story. “Tangerine” also marked the first time that openly transgender actresses campaigned for Oscars. It’s revolutionary. Unfortunately, it’s not much more than that.
After a month in jail, Sin-dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) hears a rumor that her boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), who’s also her pimp, has been cheating on her with a girl whose name starts with a D. That’s all it takes for Sin-dee to drag her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) around Hollywood on Christmas Eve, looking for Chester and this new girl (it ends up being Dinah, played by Mickey O’Hagan). Along the way, her tale of infidelity will intersect with another similar story, as Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) drives around looking for a prostitute as his family dines unsuspectingly. As it so happens, the stories aren’t as detached as they at first appear.
The story reads like a side plot in a Grand Theft Auto video game. The bigger problem is that the dialogue does, too. Both “Tangerine” and GTA are filled with unlikable and over-the-top criminals that nobody can relate to. Both feature chaotic and ever-escalating scenes of shouting over one another. Both, sadly, feature amateurish performances that are overly expressive and pigeon-holed. First-time acting performances rarely leave an impact. Rodriguez and Taylor are two more examples of that. Combined with the dizzying handheld camera work, these rookie performances give “Tangerine” the freshman film school student look that it has. Rodriguez talks at breakneck speed, leaving us all trying to keep up. At least she’s hard to forget. Taylor, on the other hand, underplays her role. And O’Hagan is unlikable and irritating. She looks like a drugged cocktail made with equal parts Courtney Love and Ann Coulter.
For all that “Tangerine” lacks, it does boast a unique soundtrack. A mix of indie and classical music reminds me of Darren Aronofsky’s great “Requiem for a Dream.” But don’t get it in your head that the similarities go beyond that. One could only hope. iPhone cinematography is a fun gimmick, but “Tangerine” fails to put out much more.