The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The end credits reveal that Tangerine was shot entirely on an Apple iPhone. Maybe someone has done this already, but if so, I haven't seen it. That factoid is more than just interesting trivia. Watching the movie, there's a very palpable sense of realness. Somehow, you feel physically closer to the characters than you normally would. There's every suggestion that “cell phone cinema” (a term I'm coining right here and now) could open up a whole new style of storytelling. Tangerine, which was partially cast with non-professional actors, doesn't work 100%, although it absolutely serves as a fascinating harbinger of what might lie ahead.

It's Christmas Eve day in Los Angeles, and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender prostitute, is fresh out of jail. Not long after hitting the streets, she discovers that her pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been hooking up with another of his girls. Heartbroken and betrayed, she sets out to find him. The film follows Sin-Dee on her journey. Along the way, we get glimpses into the lives of people she encounters, including best friend/fellow prostitute Alexandra (Mya Taylor), and Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver with domestic problems.

Tangerine certainly owes a debt to Richard Linklater's classic Slacker, in the way it ambles around from character to character and from situation to situation. There's no plot here, just a series of everyday situations that the characters traverse through before they all intersect in the third act. Writer/director Sean Baker tries to create a feeling that we're moving right along with Sin-Dee. There are lots of shots, taken from behind, of her walking, and many scenes have an EDM score that creates a sense of manic energy. The photography, meanwhile, looks far better than you'd expect from a cell phone. Perhaps because of the portability and maneuverability of a phone, the visual style of the film is very immediate, as though everything is unfolding in front of your eyes rather than on a screen.

But while Tangerine does a brilliant job of establishing a verite feel, there's so little actual story that it becomes difficult to get involved at anything deeper than a surface level. Individual scenes are terrific (including a dazzling car wash sequence in which Razmik reveals a particular sexual preference), yet they don't coalesce into a completely satisfying whole. Character development is fairly minimal, and at times, the movie gets weighed down with Razmik's family drama. He's a fairly interesting character, but his relatives are one-dimensional and shrill. Therefore, their extended sequences feel like an intrusion. As Sin-Dee, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez is so fundamentally alive that we don't really want to spend too much time with anyone else – or at least anyone who isn't as compelling as she is. In fact, we want to know more about her than we get to because of having to observe so many others.

Tangerine has good performances (Ranson, a veteran of The Wire, is a scene-stealer) and ambitious style. Ultimately, though, it's too free-form to ever fully captivate. The movie works better from minute to minute than it does in total. Still, it's hard not to have admiration for what Baker has done here. Tangerine is bold and it takes chances. Anyone interested in seeing some cinematic boundaries get nudged a little bit will be glad they took a peek, even if the film doesn't deliver to its fullest extent.

( 1/2 out of four)

Tangerine is rated R for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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