LIFF29 - Tangerine - Cinema Review

'A warts-and-all view of some of the seediest realms that Los Angeles has to offer'.

There are all sorts of reasons that Tangerine feels like a remarkable film, particularly in terms of what it stands for in the fields of both amateur film-making and LGBT cinema. Shot on a budget of $100,000 US using just three iPhone 5s smartphones and video creation apps, the end result cannot fail to impress on a technical level. Even if the absence of a multi-million dollar budget is clear to see, director Sean Baker and cinematographer Radium Cheung consistently make Tangerine look like a film of high quality and utilise the technology they have available to them to truly incredible effect. The end product is dripping with raw authenticity; a warts-and-all view of some of the seediest realms that Los Angeles has to offer.

This rawness directly complements Tangerine's refreshing and matter-of-fact presentation of the transgender community and the relationships between the film's characters regardless of their sexual identity. Transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) are introduced to us as a pair of typical gossiping friends, with the driving force behind the narrative - Sin-Dee's boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) is rumoured to have been unfaithful to her whilst she's spent the past twenty-eight days in prison, leading Sin-Dee to blaze a trail of revenge across L.A. - offered in the same way as it might be if the film were focused on a "conventional" heterosexual couple. The prejudicial figures within the story stand out as isolated minorities, with the sole prominent character who clearly shows a transphobic and homophobic mindset made to seem incredibly outdated and ill-informed in both these beliefs and in other values she represents.

It's because of these immense positives to be found within Tangerine that it's genuinely disappointing to find that Baker's film fails to stand up nearly as strongly as a narrative piece. The story, co-written by the director and Chris Bergoch, feels far too aimless for its opening two acts, only managing to truly deliver during the closing act where all the threads finally come together in a series of revelations unfolded in the manner of a classic farcical tragicomedy.

It's a shame that Baker and Bergoch's screenplay never achieves the same level of success during the opening hour, with the first act in particular focusing heavily on Sin-Dee's mission across L.A. with little development behind it. Some characters remain too one-dimensional, and in several cases unlikeable, to relate to until the closing half an hour. In fact, the coda Baker attaches to his main story in the final minutes is undoubtedly the most affecting part of Tangerine; whilst it's certainly not too little, it does however feel too late to lift the film's plot and character development as a whole.

Tangerine plays LIFF29 again on Wednesday 11th November at 14.00 at Hyde Park Picture House.

The 29th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-19th November 2015 at venues around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House, Cottage Road Cinema and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. I did actually go and see Tangerine yesterday at Hyde Park Picture House for the festival... I found it really hard to make up my mind because it's not really the kind of film I tend to like. I thought the cinematography was superb (if not a bit inconsistent), and I kind of agree about the narrative, but I genuinely thought this was much more about the characters and for that reason the narrative was more about being a 'slightly more special than normal day in the life' which for me meant the verisimilitude was spot on, I couldn't fault it.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rebecca. I see your point regarding the narrative going for authenticity and the characters being more important, but I struggled to truly connect with any of the characters until the final act. They felt genuine, but a side effect of that was that none of them were particularly likeable. It's a credit to the two leads that Sin-Dee and Alexandra escaped this by the end of the film, but arguably no other character managed to do so on the same level. I struggled to feel true sympathy for Dinah at the end, for example, in the same way as I did for the central pair.