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Film Review: Tangerine (2015) Tells The Story Of A Transgender Prostitute’s Revenge, All Shot On An iPhone

You know that feeling when you’re only 5 minutes into a film and your gut is already telling you that you’re going to be in for a ride? Well, that was Tangerine for me! Shot entirely on 3 iPhone 5s, the film starts by greeting you with a light music score in the background of a vibrant yellow wall that appears to be scribbled. The still beginning shots with minimal movement is reminiscent of scenes similar to the ones in Breaking Bad, which still stands as one of my favorite television shows, for its distinct cinematography and unique plot line. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama
My Rating: 8/10

Directed by Sean Baker and written by Baker himself with Chris Bergoch, Tangerine follows transgender sex worker Sin-Dee as she seeks revenge on the girl that her pimp cheated on her with (after her best friend accidentally tells her about it). Emotionally charged, Sin-Dee then goes on a turbulent adventure, all encompassing bad decisions, betrayal and love. Will she ever get her revenge? How will she go about it?

I think the most beautiful aspect of this film is its ability to transport its viewers into the characters’ worlds on a very personal level. Tangerine reminds us that there are no rules as to how a story should be told, as long as you just do so genuinely. There were no fancy equipments used, but rather just a story waiting to be told and unfolded. The movie challenges what we may already know in regards to film development and production, as it strips it all away to tell a story through its clever integration of simple iPhone videos, warm filters and thematic music that ranges from sappy to melodramatic. And the acting is magnetic. The film also challenges what we may know as normal in modern and contemporary film with its character selection. I do have to say, however, that sometimes the movie felt more like a documentary – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it just shows how the movie easily translates into something that can feel so real.

While watching, viewers can be taken directly into the characters’ different worlds, and it almost feels like we have to help Sin-Dee out with her goal from behind-the-screen too. The film constantly keeps us on our toes with suspense and anticipation as to what might happen in the next scene.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tangerine’s brilliant cinematography, more specifically its clever usage of color-enhancing filters and the overlap of sounds from one scene to the other. There seems to be a color theme in each scene. The many different angles of certain scenes also accurately encapsulate and capture the character’s emotions – making us empathize with them easily, while bringing out a different side to them that we may or may not have noticed before. The film does an excellent job fully utilizing their seemingly limited resources to their advantage. My favorite cinematographic element would have to be the way they filmed the sun and captured L.A. sunsets fading out. These details further added substance in various scenes.

One thing that I felt the film lacked was how it felt almost empty in certain areas. With the different subplots in Tangerine, it can feel like they did not circle back fully at the end, and that the time spent developing the subplots could have also been better invested into fusing them more intricately into the main storyline. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the selection of music in the film (ranging from alternative indie-rock to up-tempo), I noticed that the sudden transitions from one song to the other came across as abrupt at times. This was an issue at times as music tends to set the tone and direction for a scene in the film; I would find myself still trying to process the story even after the change in music. Thus, it did feel rushed to a certain extent and occasionally took away the essence of that scene itself and what it had to and could offer me.

Yet there’s no other movie like this one, and I really recommend that you add this to your list. Maybe it’ll inspire you to create your own feature – because now you know that you certainly have the tools to do so too.

Watch the trailer here:

Clara Chan is a Feature Writer of the UCLA Chapter of Her Campus. A Singapore native, Clara is a 3rd year Communication Studies major with a special emphasis in Film, TV, and Digital Media. When Clara isn't sipping on hot chocolate, she loves to rewatch The Office, create Spotify playlists, and read about the latest news in pop culture.
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