Screened Out – Tangerine

By : Stephen Miller
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Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone, Karren Karaguilian

Tangerine – which opens this Friday, Sept. 5 at Enzian Theater in Maitland – is rough, rough, rough, and so are its sad, funny, and desperate LA streetwalkers, working on Christmas Eve.

After one transgender prostitute beats up a female compatriot, her best friend objects: “You didn’t have to Chris Brown the bitch!”

This wild, ugly dramedy does impressive things. First of all, it never condescends to the workingwomen it shows. Also, to mirror their impoverished lives, the filmmaker shot most of Tangerine on an iPhone. The final DIY product is exuberant, shocking, illuminating, and unapologetic.

Rodriguez and Taylor portray transgender, minority prostitutes and best friends – Sin-Dee and Alexandra, respectively. Sin-Dee gets released from jail on Dec. 24, after a 30-day sentence; Alexandra can only afford to celebrate by buying her best friend a donut. When Alexandra lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp, Chester (Ransone), is cheating on her, Sin-Dee goes on a rampage up and down Sunset Strip to find the philanderer or the “skank” he’s cheating with.

To add insult to injury, Chester’s mistress is “fish” – an actual woman. (I know it’s an offensive term; rugged, harsh Tangerine uses that and many, many more non-PC words. If you’re at all sensitive, definitely miss this flick.)

AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. THIS IMAGE MAY ONLY BE USED FOR 14 DAYS FROM TIME OF TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING. This photo provided by Magnolia Pictures shows, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, in "Tangerine," a Magnolia Pictures release. (Magnolia Pictures via AP)

Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, and all of the other actors really commit to the grit of the story.

Following Tangerine’s dialogue might also be difficult. These prostitutes, johns, pimps, storeowners, and even cops rattle off slang-heavy, curse-laden sentences that could confuse and befuddle the best rappers.

Tangerine also offers a parallel story of an Armenian cab driver (Karaguilian) obsessed with transgender girls. His traditional lifestyle holds him back, and we sense how and why he seeks their company.

All of the actors are unknown but totally committed to this seedy story.

Another thing I loved: for such a small, simple story; Tangerine knows it’s a film. Half of its 88 minutes are told with chase scenes and music – that’s all. The soundtrack is an impressive mélange that allows us to take in Sin-Dee’s and Alexandra’s ghetto environment, understanding more about their lives than mere dialogue-driven scenes could ever accomplish. The lighting is found – most of it the sun setting on L.A., but some indoor scenes are bleached out under cheap fluorescent light. Many shots are on selfie-sticks, using software to take out the shakiness.

The Duplass brothers (Hump Day) paid the $75 thousand for production. One look is all it took for Magnolia Pictures to pick up distribution rights.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

It’s rare that a movie takes genuine risk without much concern for the audience’s opinions. Flicks like this succeed when they are electrifying and intriguing; Tangerine is all that and more. Writer/director Sean Baker (who made the stirring Starlet) finds a new way to show Los Angeles’ underbelly with scary, heartwarming, and hilarious effect.

Merry Christmas from the girls on the roughest corners of L.A!

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