Dressed to impress, stereotypically sassy and fresh out of jail, Sin-Dee is a transgender hooker on a mission. She’s on the hunt for her feckless boyfriend/pimp.
And woe be unto any woman, man, or man dressed as a woman who gets in the way of that Quest for Chester on this Tinseltown Christmas Eve.
“Tangerine” is a feisty, funny, down-and-dirty farce as nasty as a Supreme Court dissent, as timely as a Jenner magazine cover. Shot on cellphones, which add a layer of grit, it is built around magnetic and ridiculously entertaining performances by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.
Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) stomps through Hollywood’s hooker-town, with her best friend Alexandra (Taylor) there to try to stave off trouble.
Sin-Dee is in a fury, and Alexandra is all “Girl, you’d better calm down” and “Girl, you really want to go back to prison?”
Sin-Dee stomps into bars and fast food joints and loudly interrogates one and all. She assaults the woman Chester’s allegedly taken up with, despite Alexandra’s best efforts. Alexandra is more interested in handing out fliers for her “showcase” that night in a local club.
“Your fans are not here, all right, Miss Crawford?”
Drugs are discussed and used. Sexual transactions are haggled over, with one romantic rendezvous set in a car ... rolling through a car wash.
Meanwhile, an Armenian taxi driver (Karren Karagulian) is juggling his family’s Christmas Eve party with his own desires — hunting for a particular Oh Holy Night hook-up.
The back story of this indier-than-indie film is in evidence on the screen — cheaply shot, but with attention to the virtues of cellphone video-recording. Much of “Tangerine” (keep an eye peeled for the source of its title) is filmed in extreme closeups under garish natural lighting conditions.
Ancient electronica, some of it by transgender artist Wendy Carlos, peppers the score, adding to the retro campy grit of it all.
It’s a simple story that doesn’t avoid stereotypes on its way to a predictable finale. But “Tangerine” is to be praised for taking us into an alien world, and in limiting its scope, making that world seem survivable, if not remotely desirable. And while circumstances and her particular gifts might circumscribe Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s future career, she’ll always have this indie epic to remember as a showcase, a great role that a colorful life prepared her to play.
3 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, James Ransone.
Director: Sean Baker.
Running time: 1:28.
Rated: R, for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and drug use.