Tangerine: Film Review
Sean Baker's Starlet was a sweet nugget of a film that played the NZIFF a couple of years back and had a friendship between a young girl and an elderly woman at its core. It was gentle, savvy and earnest.
His latest, shot on iPhone (everyone has to have a gimmick, right?) is a lurid blast of West Hollywood, a slice of in-your-face-life that plays up to its over-exposed sunshine beating down.
Set on Christmas Eve 2014, it's the story of two transgender BFFs, one of whom Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is fresh outta jail and looking to catch up with her beau Chester. But when pal Alexandra reveals that Sin-Dee's been cheated on, she sets out to find the "bitch what done her wrong" and deliver her justice.
A collision of Short Cuts mixed in with cinema verite, Tangerine is to be frank, shrill in places and an ear-drum piercingly startling film.
Baker's brilliantly caught the banter between the blaring sounds of the street and those who inhabit it, with this tale of essentially, revenge and friendship.
With everything bathed in the Hollywood glows of the sun and the way of life, it takes a little time to adjust to this flick that has a bombastic OST blaring at every available opportunity. Its rawness equally takes time to adjust given that the character of Sin-Dee appears to be naturally set to overdrive, slotting perfectly into the flick as the revenge tale plays out.
When the film slows down and breathes, it has much in common with Starlet.
Once again, Baker's explored the bonds of friendship - despite everything that Sin-Dee goes through and is going through thanks to a philandering other half, she moves heaven and hell to get to Alexandra's spot to witness her singing because it's a pledge that's been made and an implicit and taciturn recognition that above all else on the strip, you only have your friends to rely on and a code of honor (Starlet explored similar themes)
With Baker's eye for verite, it's fair to say there will be moments of this film that will polarise some, but it doesn't shy away from a truth that's out there and rarely explored on film. It all collides at the end with perhaps some level of contrivance, but in among the sound, bluster and a ballistic lead, the ripples are potently powerful - particularly in the film's final scene, where the theme couldn't be more implicitly stated or more subtly.
Certainly Rodriguez's performance is blessed with as much vulnerability as there is bravado; and Mya Taylor's turn as Alexandra is perhaps more taciturn, but proves to be a perfect emotional foil to Rodriguez.
Above all, there's heart in Tangerine - look past the glare and blinding shrillness of the strip and those who inhabit it to get a feeling of grace, darkly comic humour as well as a simple tale of when it all comes down to it, life will let you down.
But if you're lucky, in your time of need, your friends never will.