"Los Angeles is a beautifully wrapped lie," an Armenian woman tells her driver, as they traverse the streets of West Hollywood in search of her son-in-law.
It's Christmas Eve and the main characters of Tangerine have broken into a motel brothel, destroyed family ties and barely avoided jail-time, all in a span of twenty-four hours. This indie film, famously shot on an iPhone 5S is an unconventional Christmas tale about friendship, loyalty and secrets.
Tangerine follows two transgender sex workers and one of their johns. The film is fiction but comes across as a documentary. Fast-paced cinematography and well placed street jargon bring an element of authenticity to the film.
The story begins when Sin-Dee, fresh out of jail, learns that her pimp boyfriend Chester has been seen on the block with a White "fish" (slang for a cisgender female). On a mission, Sin-Dee drags her best friend Alexandra along as she scours the streets of Los Angeles searching for the woman who's stolen her man. While both women are prostitutes, it becomes evident that Alexandra yearns for more while Sin-Dee is still deeply rooted in the game.
"It's too much drama," Alexandra insists shortly before parting ways with Sin-Dee. Ironically, Alexandra's day has some theatrics of its own. She tussles with a john over a "business transaction" gone wrong, spouting, "You forget I got a dick too!"
While transgender identity is not fully explored, sexual anatomy plays a part in the film. In the opening scene of Tangerine Alexandra despises the fact that her estrogen pills have given her breasts while her muscular arms have remained. Both Alexandra and Sin-Dee want to be viewed as "the real thing."
Alexandra laments, "The world can be a cruel place."
"Yeah, it is cruel. God gave me a penis," Sin-Dee retorts.
Armenian driver and frequent customer of both Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Razmik is disgusted when he realizes that a prostitute he picks up is a biological female.
Still, Alexandra has a reserved sophistication that easily makes her the most compelling and sympathetic character in Tangerine. After spending her day passing out flyers, urging people to attend an event she's holding later that night, Alexandra sings to a single digit bunch in a dingy club. While Sin-Dee manages to make it (and comically brings along her "hostage" Dinah), no one else who promised to show up is in attendance. Alexandra wistfully sings along to Toyland, a hauntingly hypnotic ode to childhood and fleeting innocence. Sadder still, the camera catches Alexandra slip the club owner money as she leaves.
The abrupt ending of the film, delivers a cold helping of truth to three characters who are far too occupied with delusions. This ain't a Hollywood ending, ya'll.
Tangerine is currently available on Netflix.