US | 2015 | Directed by Sean Baker

Logline: On Christmas Eve, two Los Angeles streetwalkers spend most of their time trying to find a rogue pimp to learn the truth of his cheating ways.

As refreshing as sherbet ricocheting off your tongue, dang! Tangerine is fresh and vibrant and funny as forever. I love a movie like this; a small, but beautiful present, that unwraps with perfect folds, the packaging glittering, the merchandise gleaming, happy endings all round!

Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a transgender motormouth. Her BFF, Alexandra, (Mya Taylor), another transgender, deals with it. But Sin-Dee has serious drama going on. She’s recently emerged from a stint in prison, and now she learns her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), has been sleeping with a mangy “fish” (slang for woman). She’s livid, and she’s determined to track the cheating asshole and give him a piece of her mind, and probably a black eye too.  

It’s the desolate urban wilderness of West Hollywood, in the City of Angels, on Christmas Eve. A taxi driver, Razmik, has had his fare share of fallen angels. He needs some sexual relief, and his homosexual predilection is to give head to a good-looking trannie. He picks up a stunner, who calls herself Selena. But much to Razmik’s shock, she’s all woman.

Alexandra is handing out flyers for a small singing gig she’s doing that night, nearby. She needs as much support as she can muster. It’s not helping that Sin-Dee is on a mission. Soon enough Sin-Dee’s unruly antics are too much for Alexandra, her tolerance exhausted. She storms off.

Sin-Dee finds the blonde slut whom Chester has been breaking off, and, after yanking her from a filthy sex party motel dive, she hauls the bewildered girl around the streets, whilst she tracks down the other culprit. Meanwhile Razmik has learned of Sin-Dee’s return, his favourite mister-ress, and he’s prepared to risk his marriage to see her before Xmas! Everything comes to a head downtown at Donut Time.

Tangerine was the darling of the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year, and it’s charming the pants and skirts off every audience it plays to. It’s an instant cult classic before it’s even got off the festival circuit. Shot on three iPhone 5S devices, using the $8 FiLMiC Pro app, with a clip-on anamorphic lens, it’s sensational looking, but it does the movie a disservice if you let that “lo-fi” spec become a gimmick, or cloud your appreciation. Sure, it’s impressive, and I’m sure it will inspire a lot of wannabe filmmakers, but if it wasn’t for director Baker and his co-writer, Chris Bergoch’s witty and mischievous screenplay, and the bang-on performances from the two amateur, but undeniably charismatic leads - not forgetting James Ransone’s hilarious turn at movie’s end - then Tangerine would simply sink in the glut of indie movies that swamp the scene each year, regardless of its cool tech-stylistic.

What I loved especially about Tangerine (the meaning of title is frivolous, but I love it just the same) is all the movie directors and films that are reflected and embraced. Some influences are obvious, others less so, but all in a lovely, unpretentious way. The camp chaos of Pedro Almodovar, the sarcasm and bitchiness of Greg Araki, the anarchic wit of Shane Meadows’ Small Time, the layered naturalism of Robert Altman, the magic hour vibe of Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle, the swagger and bravado of Doug Liman’s Swingers, and the dreamy summer antics of Evan Glodell’s Bellflower.  Such a melting pot of influences, simmered to perfection.

Tangerine is a sweet delight indeed; my favourite movie of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, and one of my favourites of the year.