Should you ever wonder how “in touch” with America film critics are, you could look at the reviews for Tangerine—about a transexual crack whore who’s searching L.A., looking to throw down with his pimp, who cheated with (of all things) a real woman—and read the phrases “old-fashioned comedy” and “future direction for the movies”, and you would wonder no more. (Although that latter phrase may have to do with the production than the content, in fairness.)
And I’m already having trouble with pronouns.
Let me get this out of the way and say, yes, this is a good movie. The acting is good. There’s an actual story. There’s laughs. There’s a character arc. The plot develops and resolves in a fairly interesting way. For being shot entirely on iPhone 5ses and costing $130K, it still looks better than you-know-what.
But this is what is euphemistically called “gritty”. Gritty in a way that writer/director Sean Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch tipped their hand with on their previous joint effort, Starlet (which features a hardcore sex scene/porn shoot).
So, yeah, this movie is about Sin-dee, who went to jail, taking the fall for pimp Chester over some drugs, only to come out and find Chester (who proposed right before the jailing incident) was having a thing with Dinah, an actual woman. Sin-dee runs all around the worst parts of Los Angeles, hunting down this woman and finding her in cheap motel shared by a half-dozen whore and their johns.
Sin-dee’s companion for some of this journey is Alexandra, who seems relatively level-headed, though also the one who let slip the whole “Your boyfriend is cheating on you” thing.
Sin-dee finds Dinah, as I said, and kidnaps her, roughing her up, and dragging her across the city by her hair. The two sort of bond over Dinah’s crack in the bathroom of a club where Alexandra has paid to sing Christmas tunes.
Oh, this all takes place on Christmas Eve day which, in L.A. is pretty much the same as every other day, although the poorly clothed Dinah does end up suffering from the desert night by the end.
The third major player in our drama is an Armenian cab driver, Razmik, who cheats on his beautiful wife, though only with transexual hookers. At one point, he throws out a pretty (too pretty, if we’re talking L.A. streetwalkers, frankly) whore when he finds out she doesn’t have the equipment he’s interested in.
Razmik’s got a thing for Sin-dee and ends up trolling the streets on the night before Christmas. The movie climaxes when these two stories come crashing together at a donut shop on Sunset and Highland.
So, there’s your capsule. And, as I said, it’s fine as a movie. Per se. But there were parts I found problematic.
For example, I can’t think of any other circumstance where a man would be allowed to abuse a woman for a good twenty minutes and have it be played for laughs. Sin-dee kidnaps Dinah, which he can do because, as a man, he has superior strength, hormones or no. Although the movie is generally empathetic toward its characters, it felt somewhat mean toward Dinah, whose major sin seems to have been doing what whores do with their pimps, and being a woman.
Another thing that sort of bugged me: the pretty hooker is so obviously female, I couldn’t figure out how a seasoned patron like Razmik could’ve been fooled—in broad daylight! (I’ve known a number of transexuals who thought they could pass, but I think people are just being polite.)
It’s a strange, seedy world. If you don’t mind some pretty graphic sex, gender bending and non-stop gutter language and life, you might like this.