Tangerine directed by Sean Baker might be the most interesting movie of 2015. It was filmed on an iPhone 5s, an amazing feat in and of itself, but what puts Tangerine over the top in terms of film festival nods and Oscar buzz is that it stars two transgendered, first time actresses (Mya Taylor, Kiki Rodriguez ), and it was shot in real locations guerilla style on the streets of Hollywood. This gives Tangerine a gritty, almost documentary feel to it. The film is about Cindy-rella, a transgender sex worker who finds out her pimp boyfriend (James Ransone), has cheated on her and with the help of her best friend Alexandra, another trans sex worker, hunts through Hollywood for a chance to confront him. The intimate encounters that the audience is made privy to during this narrative: transgendered prostitutes clowning each other on the street corner, cops discussing their family lives while relaxing on their beat, a sex act preformed in a car wash, all feel more like real life moments spontaneously captured on video than staged events that were written and planned out.
Although Tangerine is a fictional film, the actresses, who lived and worked in the real locations that the film was shot, contributed in the writing of the script drawing upon true stories from their community. That coupled with the seamless way the filmmakers integrated these locations and characters into the fictional world of the film, puts Tangerine in with a grand tradition of independent filmmaking which merges and blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
The earliest example in American cinema of this technique that I can think of is On the Bowery (1957), which took a camera to the streets in a waterfront area of New York City famous at the time for being a home to the city’s winos and street people.
If we want to turn up our film nerd dials to 11, Italian neo-realism integrated reality and fiction even earlier than that with films like The Bicycle Thief (1948).
So to please us hipster film snobs who need intellectual talking points to enjoy a movie in the same way a chronic masturbator needs lube, Tangerine grounds itself in this neo-realistic style. But to please the masses Tangerine gives itself an edge by tossing in comedy (shout out to comedian Ian Edwards who makes a cameo) and a jacked up soundtrack full of genres of music that white people like myself didn’t even know existed (trap music?).
But if I’m being truly honest with myself, my hands down favorite thing about Tangerine was James Ransone, who ever since he played Ziggy on the Wire is the go to guy for casting agents looking for white drug dealers. Tangerine shows us once again it’s hard to fuck up a movie that has an actor from the Wire in it, and this simple fact is just one more kick in the nuts to Fantastic Four, which cast not one but TWO actors from the Wire.