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Saturday, June 04, 2016


As the nation shifts inevitably toward the rights and recognition of transgender people, it is only natural that cinema should reflect this. I, personally, do not know any transgender people (that I know of) so, as Roger Ebert spoke of movies, they are an empathy machine, that can help us understand the lives of others.

Tangerine, a sparkling comedy, is about transgender streetwalkers in Los Angeles. It is Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee (Katana Kiki Rodriguez) is just out of prison. But her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets slip that her boyfriend and pimp (James Ransone) has been cheating on with her with a "fish," that is, a woman with an actual vagina. Sin-Dee goes on an expedition to find her.

Meanwhile, an Armenian cab driver with a predilection for transgender hookers gets in a little too deep, involving his very disapproving mother-in-law, and it all ends in a donut shop.

On its surface, Tangerine is a terrific comedy, as the two leads, Rodriguez and Taylor, who are first-timers and formerly streetwalkers, engage in banter that is brilliant and sassy. "It's a cruel world," Taylor tells Rodriguez. "Yeah, god gave me a penis, it's a cruel world," Rodriguez retorts.

The film, directed by Sean Baker, was inspired by the demimonde of prostitutes and pimps that circulate on a particular corner in West Hollywood. As such, it almost has a documentary feel to it (it was also shot on an iPhone, to no great detriment of image, which means that we can expect more and more microbudget films to enjoy) and also a humanistic respect. There are no judgments here, just an appreciation for people doing their best to get by. I loved when Sin-Dee goes up to one of those hourly-rate motels that has a prominent sign banning prostitutes but the clerk points her to the room where are all the prostitutes are.

The climax, where all the characters are in the donut shop while the counter woman threatens to call the police, is a masterpiece of farce. Then, in the denouement, we understand that this movie is about friendship and forgiveness, as Taylor and Rodriguez, sans wigs, hold hands in an all-night laundromat.

Tangerine is a wonderful film. Along with Starlet, which I reviewed last month, I've learned that Baker is a name to look out for.

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