Tangerine – Film Review

Shot using iPhones instead of cameras, this low-budget chase film has a touching message

The words “shot on iPhone 5s” are enough to make your heart sink into your shoes and your wallet crawl back into your pocket. If we’re going to pay the price of a cinema ticket can we not at least expect some modest production values? But even though //Tangerine// was filmed on //three// iPhones and looks like it cost about 19p, there’s something about the rough aesthetic that helps its tale.

There’s not an abundance of plot but there’s a ton of atmosphere. Two transgender sex workers, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), are sitting in a Los Angeles fast-food joint just after Sin-Dee has been released from prison. When Alexandra casually mentions that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend has cheated on her while she’s been locked up, Sin-Dee goes stalking around town looking for the woman and the man that gone done her wrong. That’s about all there is to it.

This is not very polished filmmaking. There are scenes dotted through the first half featuring random people travelling in a cab, the driver of which will become important later, and these all have the stilted feel of amateur improvisation.

When it gets that aimless larking about out of its system, New York filmmaker Sean Baker’s project sinks into the lives of the people who inhabit the street corners of this part of LA. It’s not judgmental or pointedly message-bearing, it’s just interested. Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s chase becomes a portrait of a community: a frequently violent community where “bitch” tends to be used as punctuation to express any given emotion and problems are resolved by screaming in public, but a community all the same. By time the search ends and our two anti-heroines are sitting in a launderette sharing a wig, it’s actually sort of touching.