There’s a bonus feature film on David Lynch’s Inland Empire DVD that reminds me of the world that Tangerine exists in. It’s called More Things That Happened, and is an assembly of deleted sequences that, while not part of the official narrative, still technically “happened.” The last scene to be shown involves a few minutes in the late nightlife of Hollywood prostitutes, as they work the streets and converse with one another. It’s dark and bleak, with the kind of grainy fabric that can only come from consumer grade digital cameras. The women go through so many emotions, they may be considered as having bi-polar disorder.
There is a beauty to this section of More Things That Happened though I’m still wondering if it is an ecstatic truth or just brilliantly done exploitation. Tangerine, on the flip side, is equally beautiful, absolutely colorful and honest to a T.
The movie features characters with names like Sin-Dee Rella and Chester, who, in this West Hollywood, are trans sex worker and pimp/boyfriend. It’s a sort of triptych, following three people over the course of XMAS Eve (I prefer XMAS over Christmas in this scenario); Sin-Dee who is investigating a rumor of infidelity, Alexander/dra who is trying to scrounge an audience for a singing performance later in the night, and Razmik who drives a cab and cruises for transaction in spite of his judgmental mother-in-law. Sure, it’s a misfit concoction for wacky situations, fueled by special attitudes and subculture behaviors, but Tangerine is way more than an oddity to be laughed at. In fact, if you laugh “at” it, you probably don’t understand.
Our characters are connected not just because, or for their sexual preferences, but in their metaphorical mask wearing that holds them back from progressing — either to accomplish their dreams or just to be better people. We see them walking, driving and riding all throughout the film, which visually expresses forward motion. However, all three are stuck still due to stubbornness and poor decisions. It’s hard to say if they realize this by the end, but the time spent traveling around the city affords them plenty of time to contemplate and ruminate. We even finish where the story begins, at least setting wise. I’d like to think Sin-Dee Rella is wiser after all is said and done and Eve turns to full XMAS.
Filmmaker Sean Baker shot this on an iPhone, which is appropriate and bold at once. It’s almost a statement getting such wonderful framing and clarity with such a small device, and with purpose, too. When a character walks past a building with a sign that reads “Collateral not always necessary,” it makes you think for a moment. When the camera swivels around people to a pop beat, you pause in awe. Think to have the heart of Giuseppe Andrews but with the vision and skill of Harmony Korine, and you’ll get something like Tangerine.
Using subversion without becoming subversive at all, the movie feels real and rings true. The fact that we can relate to such eccentric and socially stuck in stigma characters is and always will be a blessing, one that should happen more often. Come the climax, there is a moment of frat boy discrimination that made me sick. Sure, the past hour and a half had Spring Breakers style musical cues and editing that highlighted the silliness and hyperness of these individuals, but it NEVER was a reason to make fun of or denigrate these characters. Tangerine succeeds by presenting foils and foibles without representing people as lesser than the rest of us. True to its world, true to its characters and true to us. Wonderful.
5 / 5 *s
Originally published at digbr.com on August 19, 2015.