By: Addison Wylie
Jay and Mark Duplass hopped on board Sean Baker’s Tangerine to lend their support as executive producers. The mumblecore founders are always keeping their eyes peeled for innovation in independent cinema, and Tangerine – a film shot entirely on the iPhone 5S – was their calling.
Tangerine reminded me of Christos Sourligas’ Happy Slapping, a film that followed hopeless teens via handheld footage shot on earlier generation smartphones. Happy Slapping may have more interesting things to mirror and dictate about society, but Tangerine takes the cake when it comes to the visual presentation. I imagine post-production was Baker’s best friend, but the iPhone technique transports the viewer to a dishevelled Los Angeles while also providing a crisp picture and appropriately boosted colours. Fun fact: the film’s title is based off of the orange glow the accompanies the film. However, I would say the yellow hues are more arresting.
The camerawork is surprisingly smooth – for the most part – and the pocket-sized devices give Baker and co-cinematographer Radium Cheung opportunities to get up close and personal with actors; which the performers (namely newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and May Taylor) are never phased by. Tangerine also becomes a social experiment at times when the production sneaks into crowded areas. The most interesting part to these scenes is watching how indifferent the unassuming public emotes towards what’s going on. It’s just “another day in paradise” for these people.
I admired the risky ambitions of Baker, his cast, and his crew. I thought the premise was loose enough for the actors to fill in the negative space, the observations about Los Angeles culture while rote were visceral, and traveling the streets with these eccentric personalities was an interesting experience to say the least. That said, I do believe the daring filmmaking creates smoke to cover up its shortcomings.
The immaturity of the characters as well as the film’s mean sense of humour and overarching juvenile chaos is a lot to drink in. For most of the duration, I felt as if I was having to sift through its trashy demeanour to find what made me curious in the first place. Tangerine goes too far with its sun-bleached, grungy atmosphere. Its trashiness engulfs the feature instead of acting as an attribute that accumulates to a bigger picture.
Sean Baker likes to show rather than tell. He’s supplied the bare bones to a slice of life, but his storytelling hasn’t met the same level as his integrity. Tangerine is a flat depiction of tattered street life through the eyes of two transgender streetwalkers who are nothing more than stereotypes who converse in an ear-piercing, mile-a-minute manner. Movie goers hang around with these two very convincing characters, yet by the end of the movie, we still hardly know them.
Tangerine is a bold experiment, but I’m afraid that’s all it is. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and May Taylor are major standouts though. They will be launched to stardom by Tangerine’s little league kitschiness.