Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a little like some of the creatures it describes the chicks with dicks who hangout at a place called Donut Time at the corner of Santa Monica and Highland in Hollywood. Remember Algebra I where you plotted graphs made up of equations in two variables or unknowns, x and y, plotting their coordinates. Tangerine is a mishmash of plots, one major thread having to do with a pre-op transsexual Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who is looking for her lover and pimp, Chester (James Ransone) who has run away with “a real bitch vagina and everything” and the other, the story of an Armenian cabby Rizmat (Karren Karagulian) who likes to go down on ladyboys and is unmasked by his mother-in-law, Ashken (Alla Rumanian). But the movie is also like the evolution of our attitudes towards transgenderism. The bizarre, perverse and in case of the movie’s form, crude and improbable yesterday may be understood as normative or even inspired tomorrow. Tangerine titters on the line where found objects become Duchamp’s “Fountain,” both literally and metaphorically since one of the most touching scenes in the film occurs in a restroom. Chester functions a little like Hickey in the Iceman and also like the lost bicycle in the De Sica’s masterpiece. Tangerine, of course, owes a good deal to Italian neorealist cinema which used non professional actors (people playing their own lives) and to cinema verite and there is a bit of Midnight Cowboy in the settings with their pantheon of down at their heels hustlers whose fleshy commodification is underscored with street signs like the one which reads “collateral not always necessary.” But is Tangerine, the end of the line or the beginning of a new life? Just when you think the film’s besotted pair have reached the lowest rung on the food chain, on Xmas Eve in LA, they rise mightily for the occasion. By the way, speaking of new devices and techniques sexual and otherwise, the film was shot with iPhones.
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