Film review: Tangerine

Sweet-natured street tale a welcome addition to stockings

This is a Christmas film in the same sense that Donald Trump is a presidential nominee: neither of them fit the criteria that these labels would normally evoke, and yet, they both seem to be doing rather well – despite the odds.

In the case of Tangerine, this is a good thing. It’s unlikely that in two years, you’ll be settling into your armchair after lunch, surrounded by your family, their bellies digesting roast bird, to catch this being broadcast on DR1.

Nevertheless, this lo-fi tale of pimps, junkies, hookers and Armenian taxi drivers has a heart big enough to qualify it for the festive feel-good brigade.

Fiddly dee Sin-Dee
Essentially a story of friendship, Tangerine begins – in a setting that recalls the opening of Pulp Fiction – in a roadside diner, just off Sunset Boulevard with a pair of fast-talking African-American transgender prostitutes, shooting the breeze over coffee and donuts.

It soon becomes clear that Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriguez), who we learn has just spent the last month in jail, is in love with her pimp, Chester (Ransone). However, when her BFF Alexandra (Taylor) lets slip that Chester has been ‘testing his product’ since Sin-Dee went inside, Sin-Dee becomes consumed by a rage that almost lasts the remainder of the film’s running time.

A pulsating soundtrack
Following Sin-Dee’s decision to exact revenge on Chester and his concubine, the film plays out mostly on the LA streets with a handheld camera following the pair’s antics.

With Sin-Dee’s motives firmly established, and the narrative engine in place, the soundtrack then erupts into a driving cacophony of dubstep, electro, classical and simple wistful synths – the effect is both exciting and occasionally moving.

A character who initially seems unrelated to the main narrative is taxi driver Raznik (Karagulian), an Armenian family man who is trying to top up his earnings for the Christmas period. We witness several of his fares which like much of the film feel very real or improvised – and funny.

Not strictly a comedy
While being billed as a comedy, Tangerine is not strictly that. The laughs that come (and there are some) come via the – albeit heightened –drama. Any comedy is fully integrated into the dramatic propulsion of the narrative and largely ‘observed’ so that the laughs feel as though they were discovered, rather than scripted.

There is also a simple enjoyment from coming to like these characters – although that affection is frequently challenged, particularly by Sin-Dee, whose behaviour on her vengeful mission to locate Chester becomes increasingly erratic.

Ever so slightly superfluous
At 88 minutes the film feels as though it struggles to fill that running time. Oddly reminiscent of Tom Tykes’s debut Run Lola Run, not a moment is boring, but some scenes are superfluous to the core narrative, which is so slight it could easily be told in half the time. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the film though, rather it exposes, in retrospect, the film’s looseness of character.

Tangerine is a simple film, unexpectedly sweet-natured, well acted throughout and, given the convincing mayhem on screen, either brilliantly directed or precisely edited (or both). The final scene is inevitable, given the opening one, but poignant nonetheless.