“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!”
Strains of “Toyland” playing in the background, so begins Sean Baker’s fresh and wonder-filled Tangerine. We begin our miniature odyssey in a donut shop where trans-prostitute, Sin-Dee Rella, meets up with bff Alexandra after serving yet another short stint in jail.
Baker’s film, which I have said before is the most promising mainstream debut since Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, has all the roughness and reality of a documentary, right down to the low-strung December-in-Hollywood sunlight from which the film derives its title. Filmed using three iPhone 5’s, Baker’s examines the theme of bonding, where family is not just the circle into which we are born, but the world in which we find ourselves through circumstance and choice.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-Dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra), who are revelations in their first-time roles, lead a mincemeat pie of a cast of offbeat characters as connections are remade and scores are settled throughout the course of a day. Sin-Dee is on a frantic manhunt for a cheating boyfriend while Alexandra prepares for a singing gig at Hamburger Mary’s.
Tangerine is a traditional comedy in structure, which keeps the more traditional audience anchored in a story where street language, relationships and incidental crack smoking might otherwise send them scurrying for cover. The film neither condemns nor promotes; there is no preaching, no judgment, only the illumination of a world most never experience. It’s a reminder that Christmas can be more gingerbread than iced-sugar cookie, a dark and spicy treat to be enjoyed on its own terms.