Netflix is full of blockbuster movies, but you should always make time for the little-known feature films on its shelves. Sean Baker’s Tangerine is one such movie that deserves your time and attention.
The films of American auteur Sean Baker venture outside the nation’s metropolis, making a B-line for the heart of the country, tossing a camera to quiet voices rarely heard above the clamorous bangs of the city. Exploring life on the fringes of the American dream, the characters of Baker’s filmography shoot for the stars only to fall desperately short by fault of themselves or their environment.
Helping to establish a new style in American cinema, heavily inspired by the authenticity of Italian neorealism, Sean Baker’s impression of the USA is complex and critical. With a focus on downtrodden characters on the precipice of ‘success’ as per the folkloric myth, Baker’s films have no interest in celebrating the frills and historical ‘greatness’ of the country. They actively avoid such comparisons to access the problems inherent within its contemporary identity.
Whilst his later films, The Florida Project and Red Rocket, do this with aplomb, it was his 2015 indie award-winner Tangerine that would establish his name among the most promising young filmmakers. A little like the spherical orange treat you find at the bottom of your stocking, but with multiple differences, Tangerine is the kinetic tale of a trans sex worker who goes on a mission across Hollywood on Christmas eve to find the pimp who cheated on her.
Filmed on an iPhone with a few handy gadgets and widgets, including the FiLMIC Pro app to control focus and aperture and Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee to make sure the shots weren’t uncontrollably shaky, Tangerine has all the pace and passion of an elongated TikTok video with ten times the content and class. A close and personal viewing experience, this proximity forces us to cling onto the furry coattails of the leading actors as they strut through the city streets focused on revenge.
Having just been released from a 28-day jail sentence, the film is led by the moreish energy of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), whose fiery personality fuels the film from the start, shortly after her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), another trans sex worker, informs her that her boyfriend has been cheating. As if the duo are dragging Baker by his wrist, the remainder of the film is a chaotic observation of life outside of Hollywood glamour, where real life, mystique, drama and enchantment exist.
Named after its warm colour scheme, the film thrust director Baker into the spotlight with the progressive alternative Christmas flick earning praise for its frenetic, vivacious energy and modest budget. Presenting an enthralling tale that focused on progressive themes and individuals who too rarely are given the limelight, Tangerine would become an early statement of the filmmaker’s innovative methods.
Where classic Christmas tales follow in the same hollow footsteps of the American dream, with deepest desires coming true and middle-class families rewarded above all, Baker demonstrated that the best and most relatable festive tales don’t have to be doused in saccharine fantasy. Exploring unity in the face of adversity and the ignorantly-avoided issues of those disregarded by mainstream society, Baker has created one of the finest movies of contemporary cinema – one which celebrates the ethos of the unity whilst refusing to ignore the pandemonium of everyday life that continues regardless.
Watch Tangerine on Netflix now.