It may seem strange, but I’m not really sure where to begin. I’m breaking the rules, talking to you in a letter like this, but it seems fitting, you being a rule-breaker yourself. I mean, you’re a feature film that was made on a $100k budget and a few iPhones, for crying out loud.
But with your stellar supporting performances, the bright backdrop of sex work and drugs, the sharp one-liners, the wicked soundtrack, the best car-wash scene ever (srsly), I just feel like you deserve more than the standard review going on about “aren’t you the sweetest little friendship story”.
So I’m writing you this letter, to say you’re more than that to me – though to be honest, Tangerine, I think you already know it.
From the moment transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is told by best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her beau and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a “real fish, like a vagina and everything”, I was all in. I was fully ready for Sin-Dee to tear up Los Angeles to find this other woman and drag the reluctant Alexandra along for the ride.
I fell almost immediately in love with your hot, sunny Christmas Eve setting and your bright, grimy Los Angeles backdrop. Add to that your foreground of characters who would usually be relegated to being the outrageous sidekick in a random scene or two. I fell fast, and I fell hard.
You had such a fantastic way of tangling Sin-Dee’s odyssey with the lives of other Los Angelinos, including brilliantly acted taxi driver (Karren Karagulian) and his family.
That’s not to say you were always easy to love. Because you weren’t, Tangerine. You had Sin-Dee and Alexandra constantly alternating between brutally unsympathetic and heartwarmingly vulnerable. Your pace was relentless. I was torn between being ecstatic to see characters who are typically marginalised on screen owning their lives, and being unsure about whether you’d sentenced those beautiful characters to stereotype-jail. Do you know what it’s like to be torn like that?
I’m used to directors telling me how to feel about characters! Sin-Dee and Alexandra were neither good nor bad. They were complicated. I had to use MY OWN BRAIN and that was hard, even though I’m glad you made me do it.
I spent the whole film feeling like I was seeing something usually unseen. I felt privileged like I was being shown behind a magical Oz-ian curtain with these characters.
But when director Sean Baker finally dialed down the noise, I sat in awe watching one of the most tender and beautiful scenes in my recent memory. It was then that I realised, Oh, this is the real behind-the-curtain.
I’d spent the whole movie questioning how real these characters were, constantly aware of how different their lives were than mine. And then, when I least expected it, you showed me their truth, their gentle humanity. I love being surprised, Tangerine, and you truly, wonderfully surprised me.
Looking forward to seeing you again,
P.S. You might even replace Die Hard as my Christmas movie tradition. I haven’t decided yet. But Donut Time definitely gives Nakitomi Plaza a run for its money.