There’s always one or two additions to the list each year that make people go “wtf?”, as if the editors have to show that their knowledge of must see films extends beyond the obvious ones. This year gives us Tangerine, a film I’d heard of solely because of the filmmakers’ decision-making behind the production, which was trumpeted everywhere I looked on the various indie filmmaking sites I semi-regularly frequent. For those not in the know, director Sean Baker chose to shoot this film not on typical cameras, but on iPhones; not only this, the film is about transgender prostitutes, and actual transgender actors were cast in the lead roles. While I can certainly get behind the film’s progression of the cinematic art form (at least on a technical level), both in how it was shot and how it was cast, I’m not too sure I can get behind it as an actual film.
Sin-Dee is a transgender sex worker, currently on the way out of a 28-day prison sentence, when she meets up with her friend and fellow trans-worker Alexandra, who accidentally lets slip that Sin-Dee’s pimp and boyfriend Chester cheated on her while she was in prison. Needless to say, Sin-Dee gets riled up, and the film follows her as she tries to track down Chester, as well as the girl he was with, and confront them; all while an Armenian taxi driver also has a role to play when the events come to a climax. I hate to make a comparison to Carrie, just because it really seems out of place to do so, but Tangerine is a film that is all about getting to the climax, and once you’re there, you just let it ride until everything that you’ve been waiting to happen happens, and you’re left with the aftermath. I can see how it was a big deal that the film was entirely shot on iPhones, but aside from the novelty of it, it’s not really a worthwhile endeavor to shoot a real feature with iPhones; this film can get away with it mostly because it knows how lurid it wants to be, but the general look and feel of the film was too unprofessional to sell the idea of using cameraphones to shoot other viable feature films with. I assume this was part of the intention behind shooting this with cameraphones, so in that the film kinda shoots itself in the foot. Still, for a film about transgender sex workers fighting and reacting and thinking with their instincts, this has a heart to it, mostly thanks to the two leads, especially Mya Taylor, who plays Alexandra, and who was surprisingly effective pretty much all of the time.
Here’s the thing about Tangerine, and it’s kind of a disappointment that I’m left with this thought after watching it: I don’t really see the point in anyone going to see this. What Tangerine is, and what the entertainment value and lead-up to the climax ultimately amounts to, is akin to watching a trainwreck; in almost no real way should it be entertaining, but just the sheer carnage that’s on display… you just can’t take your eyes away from it. That’s the climax of Tangerine, and to say that nobody gets a happy ending here is to be so tongue-in-cheek that one risks puncturing the side of their face. Now, given that Jerry Springer is still on the air, there’s still an audience for this sort of trainwreck, but in all honesty, there really shouldn’t be. This has some moments, there are certainly some moments in here that may be worth the journey. But not enough, and not nearly enough to outweigh the general sliminess that the film seems to want you to bathe in for whatever reason it has for wanting so.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10