“Tangerine” is about the underside of Hollywood, the not-so-secret world of transvestites and transgender people and the kind of prostitutes that are far-removed from “Pretty Woman” and yet still have the Hollywood dream.
The movie begins in a particular all-night donut shop, one that really exists on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland. This is a very different Hollywood than the Hollywood and Highland upscale shopping complex presents. Yet is it very much part of Hollywood life, one that includes a well-established row of small theaters where you can seen actors on-stage and in the audience. Transvestites and transgender people aren’t uncommon in these venues. At times, the most beautiful woman in the room may be a man or something in between.
In “Tangerine,” there also two beautiful women, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). They wear wigs and skimpy clothes for the really cheap, sexy look at appeals to some people. They are best friends and fellow prostitutes. Sin-Dee (Rella) has just gotten out of jail for holding drugs and Alexandra has let a bomb drop. Sin-Dee’s guy and pimp, Chester (James Ransome) has taken up with a cisgender, a woman who presents herself to the world as a woman, Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan). Sin-Dee and Alexandra are transgender women.
Enraged, Sin-Dee goes in search of Dinah and, despite the expanse that is Los Angeles, is able to find her using public transportation. This journey only somewhat derails Alexandra’s endeavor to get people to see her sing at a local bar that night which happens to be Christmas Eve. Once they find Dinah, who is servicing a John in a cheap ground floor apartment that serves as a cheap bordello, Sin-Dee drags her back to a confrontation with Chester.
But, don’t for a minute think that this confrontation keeps Sin-Dee from supporting her BFF’s stage debut. As Sin-Dee seeks Dinah, we learn more about Alexandra. Alexandra has a benefactor who is helping her pay for time on stage, an Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian).
Razmik has a pretty blonde Armenian wife and young child. During his work hours away from his cozy apartment, he also frequents prostitutes but has a certain type and obviously has a thing for Alexandra. Razmik leaves his wife, child and mother-in-law on Christmas Eve, impatiently going through the special dinner, in order to be with Alexandra. He says he must work, but the reality is, few people take cabs in Los Angeles. His mother-in-law is suspicious and takes a taxi herself. Through the driver, Karo (Arsen Grigoyan), she learns that Razmik isn’t working and when she asked Karo to take her to Razmik, Karo tells her: “But you know why? Even if he doesn’t respect himself, he has to respect his family.” As he’s driving he adds, “He’s lucky he’s in America. Imagine if he was in Armenia.”
Sean Baker, who, along with Chris Bergoch, wrote this movie then has the characters meet up for a showdown, one where not everyone understands all that is said, but the nastiness is clear. Baker, who shot this movie along with Radium Cheung on an iPhone takes full advantage of the Hollywood reality of grunge and desperate wannabe famous. There’s is nudity and sexual situations (including full frontal male nudity), but the johns aren’t particularly studly and the women not all attractive. There’s a subtle shifting of alliances, partially orchestrated by Chester the pimp and even, amongst the unlikely threesome of Alexandra, Dinah and Sin-Dee.
In the end, this movie is about friendship and the two main characters just happen to be transgender. “Tangerine” is a movie that looks at the ugliness of prostitution in Hollywood against the beauty of friendship. “Tangerine” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Amazon Videos.