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Tangerine L.A. (Tangerine)
U.S.A. 2015

Opening 7 Jul 2016

Directed by: Sean Baker
Writing credits: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Principal actors: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O'Hagan, James Ransone

Christmas Eve morning in La-la-land: Los Angeles – home of illusions, diverse neighborhoods, and colorful characters. Sin-Dee celebrates with Alexandra (Taylor), happy to be back and itching to see her Chester (James Ransone) until she hears the rumor and goes ballistic. Concurrently, Razmik’s (Karagulian) day is routine, each cab fare an escapade. The drama queen’s meltdown sends her traipsing through West Hollywood in search of her pimp. And her best friend’s mission takes a different direction. And fate deals Dinah (O'Hagan)—wrong place, wrong time—a bad hand. Whereas an irksome mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian) provides the excuse Razmik needs to escape family festivities. Shifting parallel scenarios converge at Donut Time, whereby Mamasan (Shih-Ching Tsou) performs crowd control. We have not seen slapstick this good since Some Like it Hot.

This raucous, witty, zany film is a true independent – most involved wear many hats. To give you an idea: Sean Baker: director, co-writer, editor, camerawork, co-casting, producer. Chris Bergoch: co-writer, co-casting, actor, producer; Shih-Ching Tsou: actor, costume design, producer; Radium Cheung: cinematographer (unusual framing often contain witticisms), co-producer. Ingenious sound design (Irin Strauss) and music (Matthew Smith) play back and forth, together, and off one another.

Sean Baker’s films are nonjudgmental, frank while emphasizing (marginalized) individuals (Starlet, 2012) lifestyles that encourage sensible conversations, perhaps shifting preconceived perceptions. Mya’s performing artist background made the project enticing; she introduced Baker to friend Kiki—authentic camaraderie—who told a story about a girl, a transgender prostitute, that became the basis of Baker and Bergoch’s screenplay. Baker explained, “Kiki and Mya said realism was extremely important to them – they wanted to show what life was like for women who work that area”, meaning L.A.’s notorious neighborhood close to where Santa Monica and Highland intersect. Karren was involved with the Armenian subplot. As Baker and Cheung’s decision to use (three) iPhone 5s phones was threefold: shoot clandestinely, not intimidate first-time actors and extras they grabbed at locations, and for its grainy, realistic tonal quality. Moondog Labs provided anamorphic adapters for the iPhones lenses. 

Tangerine – chaotic, funny, heartwarming, energetic that travels full circle, ending where it begins. It empathizes, humanizes. Heed the R-rating – still, this unique film is worth seeing. (Marinell Haegelin)

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