Tangerine is absolutely excellent – an incredibly well made low budget movie. It is also probably the first transgender comedy drama feature film to be shot exclusively on iPhones.
Written and directed by Sean Baker, Tangerine is an astonishing achievement – proof that anyone who wants to make a feature film has the equipment they need in their pocket. As Kevin Smith, the filmmaker behind the 1994 comedy Clerks recently stated “You can make a movie for WAY less money these days, kids – and all the tech you need is right on your smart phone. So… What’s stopping you?” He spent nearly $30,000 funding his first feature over twenty years ago and the majority of that money was spent on hiring equipment and buying film.
Tangerine was shot on a series of iPhone 5s phones and shows that even a film shot in standard 1920×1080 resolution HD through a smartphone camera lens can look amazing. This isn’t Sean Baker’s first film and despite the medium of image capture, it certainly looks professional. In fact it looks better than a lot of other low budget movies made using expensive equipment. The cinematography, lighting, framing and everything visual about the film is well considered and measured. In fact, if you didn’t know it was shot on a phone beforehand, you probably wouldn’t realise.
Most films these days are digitally projected in the cinema at 4K resolution, and there are plenty of smartphones on the market now which are capable of capturing footage at that higher quality. What Tangerine shows is that if you have a creative eye, along with the script and the performances to match there really should be no limitation to getting it made.
The brio with which Tangerine is made also translates to the subject matter. The story takes place in Hollywood on Christmas Eve, among the community of transgender prostitutes who walk the streets of Tinseltown. Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is fresh out of prison, and has just discovered from her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) a rumour that her pimp boyfriend Chester (James Ransome) hasn’t been faithful during her 28 day hiatus. She decides to get to the bottom of the rumour and exact her revenge. Her mission takes her around the neighbourhood and the story intertwines with several others, including an unfaithful Armenian cab driver, before combining in an inevitable showdown.
If the story sounds simple, it is, but it is told with such verve and elan that it carries you on the crest of it’s wave. The performances are uniformly brilliant and the story zips and fizzes all the way through. Being shot on the streets where it is set, the film has an almost documentary feel to it, not least because of the handheld nature of the footage. It is also incredibly funny, and for all of the low down underbelly of Los Angeles of sex, drugs and violence we see being depicted it is incredibly charming and has a huge amount of heart.
For all of its heat filled atmosphere, this is a beautifully leftfield Christmas movie about redemption and friendship. Wonderful.
Tangerine is out now on DVD and is very highly recommended.