‘Tan­ger­ine’ a vi­tal, ur­gent peek into un­seen lives of trans­gen­der pros­ti­tutes


Cait­lyn Jen­ner and her glam­orous Van­ity Fair cover brought un­prece­dented vis­i­bil­ity to trans­gen­der women. Laverne Cox, the first trans­gen­der ac­tress to win an Emmy Award, fronted Time mag­a­zine, an im­age of grace and grow­ing ac­cep­tance.

The trans­gen­der women at the heart of “Tan­ger­ine” come from the op­po­site end of the spec­trum — the in­vis­i­ble and maligned. They’re sex work­ers who troll the streets of Hol­ly­wood, turn­ing tricks in parked cars. Their hang­out is an all­night dough­nut shop. They keep com­pany with pimps, drug­gies and the over­looked.

Shot en­tirely with iPhones, writer-di­rec­tor Sean Baker’s fifth fea­ture is an ur­gent, in­ti­mate look at a day in the lives of two trans­gen­der pros­ti­tutes. It il­lu­mi­nates Los An­ge­les’ fringe-liv­ing, of­ten un­seen char­ac­ters: the hook­ers and dope fiends, the late-night cab driv­ers. They’re so col­or­fully re­al­ized, in fact, that you may not re­ally want to spend a whole day with them. “Tan­ger­ine” shows their lives ruled by des­per­a­tion with few bright spots.

It’s Christ­mas Eve morn­ing, and fast-talk­ing, fre­netic Sin-Dee (Ki­tana Kiki Ro­driguez) is fresh out of a month­long stint in jail. She and best friend Alexan­dra (Mya Tay­lor) are so broke, they’re split­ting a dough­nut. As they catch up, Alexan­dra tells Sin-Dee her pimp/drug-dealer boyfriend was un­faith­ful while she was away. Sin-Dee be­comes in­stantly de­ter­mined to find the woman who did her wrong.

She leads a re­luc­tant Alexan­dra on a mis­sion through the streets of Hol­ly­wood and West Hol­ly­wood, into laun­dro­mats, strip-mall restau­rants and seedy-look­ing ho­tels, ac­com­pa­nied by a ca­cophonous sound­track that abruptly jumps from clas­si­cal mu­sic to dub­step. When Sin-Dee finds her mark work­ing in a ho­tel-room brothel, she drags the crack-ad­dled, shoe-less Di­nah (Mickey O’Ha­gan) out by her hair.

The ac­tresses play their roles so con­vinc­ingly, and the iPhone footage looks so im­me­di­ate, at times it al­most feels like watch­ing a de­press­ing doc­u­men­tary.

Mean­while, Hol­ly­wood taxi driver Razmik (Kar­ren Karag­u­lian) is hav­ing a typ­i­cal day. One of his pas­sen­gers is a woman whose dog just died. Another drunk­enly barfs all over the cab’s back­seat. Razmik takes the edge off by pa­tron­iz­ing the pros­ti­tutes who work the same streets he does. At the end of his work­day, he re­turns to the apart­ment he shares with his wife and baby girl. On this night, his Ar­me­nian-speak­ing in-laws are their hol­i­day guests.

As the day pro­gresses, the char­ac­ters’ lives in­ter­sect, cul­mi­nat­ing in a con­fronta­tion at Donut Time.

Baker knew he wanted to ex­plore life at the cor­ner of LA’s Santa Mon­ica Boule­vard and High­land Av­enue, a hot­bed of drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion, but he found his stars be­fore he found his story. Real-life friends Tay­lor and Ro­driguez have great chem­istry to­gether and are nat­u­rals in their re­spec­tive roles (though Ro­driguez talks so fast, some of her lines are un­in­tel­li­gi­ble). The women’s sto­ries about their neigh­bour­hood ul­ti­mately in­formed the script.

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the story, per­for­mances, di­rec­tion and cam­er­a­work that “Tan­ger­ine” feels so present and re­al­is­tic, but that’s also what makes it so up­set­ting. It’s not just the vi­o­lence or the drugs, it’s the hope­less­ness. Sin-Dee, Alexan­dra, Di­nah and Razmik are all do­ing the best they can in a world where they have lim­ited op­tions, and it’s hard to see how things get bet­ter for them. Run­ning time: 87 min­utes. Three stars out of four.


This photo pro­vided by Mag­no­lia Pic­tures shows, Mickey O’Ha­gan, left, and Ki­tana Kiki Ro­driguez, in “Tan­ger­ine,” a Mag­no­lia Pic­tures re­lease.

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