Sean Baker’s film The Florida Project made a lot of critics’ year-end lists for 2017. Now, in celebration of Black History Month, Pittsburgh Filmmakers is bringing back Baker’s 2015 film, Tangerine, for one week. If you missed it then, or have recently discovered Baker via The Florida Project, don’t miss this chance to see this fierce and funny indie film. Below is a condensed version of City Paper’s review that ran previously.
Tangerine kicks off its raucous, sweet-and-sour story with two transgender sex workers sitting in a donut shop, catching up: Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is just back from a stint in the can, and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) is eager to fill her in on how Sin-Dee’s pimp Chester has been seeing another woman.
That sets Sin-Dee off on a furious day-long search through the community — taco stand, motel, food line, nightclub — interacting with pimps, prostitutes and johns. Nominally, Tangerine is a shaggy-dog comedy, and the film is funny as hell, as Alexandra and Sin-Dee squabble, gossip and throw shade (and punches). But neither actress (both non-professionals) lets you forget that that fierceness and bravado covers up a lot of hurt and powerlessness. It’s a tough life in a brutal milieu, and prepare to be a bit heartbroken, too.
Director Sean Baker shot Tangerine on location in Los Angeles’ rundown Santa Monica and Highland area, using just three iPhones. He collaborated with residents of the trangender and street communities depicted (some of whom play roles). As a result, the film is remarkably non-judgmental toward its cast of typically marginalized characters (sex workers, petty criminals, street denizens), granting them the dignity of their experience. It’s an indie film in technique, spirit and subject that thrums with that authenticity.
At its heart — and Tangerine has plenty of heart — it’s about how the friendship of two women endures through a lot of bullshit money and man trouble. Sin-Dee and Alexandra finish out the day as they started — under another fluorescent light, holding hands, and facing the holiday with their rough-and-tumble sisterhood.