Unsolicited Endorsement: Tangerine (the movie)

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by Eric Ginsburg

The line, uttered by Armenian cabdriver Razmik’s mother-in-law, sums up the narrative bent of Tangerine too well to be a coincidence.

“LA is a beautifully wrapped lie,” she says. She’s talking about Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and how strange it seems without snow or cold weather. But the parallels between the conversation — as she tries to expose Razmik’s unsavory hidden side — and the film’s main conflicts are apparent.

Tangerine wowed at Sundance, in part because it was filmed on an iPhone but also because of its unwavering focus on two trans women who are sex workers as protagonists. Both are triumphs.

The film, which makes excellent use of bombastic music to animate emotions, wastes no time cutting to the issue: Sin-Dee is fresh out of jail, and pissed once her best friend Alexandra accidentally lets slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend slept with someone else. She’s ready to burn it all down, and seems destined to return to jail as she pursues revenge.

The film’s main fault is its casting of Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester, played by James Ransone. Everyone else in the film is a fresh face, while Ransone is recognizable from all sorts of supporting TV roles including on “How to Make It in America” as Ziggy Sobotka on “The Wire” and on “Treme,” as well as half a dozen other film and television appearances. He does just fine as Chester, though it isn’t his best performance, but the recognizable face is jarring as the only mug that sticks out. It brings the focus away from Sin-Dee-Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), where it belongs.

The two are unbelievably talented at portraying the two characters, from their sinking despair to kinship to rage. The range so skillfully displayed keeps viewers riveted, only enhanced by the up-close-and-personal iPhone filming approach. Ransone’s familiar face is all that jerks the viewer into remembering it’s all fiction. But the film is unquestionably worth seeing, and is likely already achieving instant-classic status.

 

Tangerine is showing at A/perture Cinemas (W-S) and Geeksboro (GSO). Check their websites for details.