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Sunday 11 October 2015

Review: Tangerine

Posted in: Movies
By Shelley Te Waiariki Howard - 25th July 2015

Is Tangerine the “ballsiest” trans movie yet? I highly recommend you go and find out for yourselves. But, even if it is not, it will creep up on you like a stalker in the night.

Tangerine is showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival


Tangerine is the story of a street-wise working girl just released from a 28 day stay in prison and Christmas Eve is upon the city of Los Angeles. Sin Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and her BFF Alexandra (Mya Taylor) are catching up in a donut shop when Alexandra lets slip that Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her. To top it off, he has been cheating with a “fish” – a vagina! The ‘fish' (Mickey O'Hagen) is known only as someone whose name starts with a ‘D'.

So the scene is set for a comedic tour of Tinseltown as Sin Dee sets off to seek out retribution with Alexandra reluctantly in tow and acting as a foil to Sin Dee's rage, unless there is drama. In which case Alexandra is out of there.

As we follow Sin Dee and Alexandra we eavesdrop on sassy, street-wise rap and ripostes. We are also introduced to Razmik (Karren Karragulian) a taxi driver who is clearly attracted to transgender women. Razmik learns Sin Dee is back and so he begins his own search for her. The storylines trip along in rather ordinary fashion, the only real interest being in the characters themselves. But the evolving stories conflate in a conclusion which rushes up on the audience as it attempts to connect all the dots. Things unfold so quickly there is little time to absorb the complexities of each character's life and story in order to make sense of the catastrophe unfolding before the audience which has now become voyeur. Drama!


This movie knocked me over. I felt blind-sided by the conclusion and it took me some moments to compose myself before I felt ready to join the rest of the world after the movie ended. I was very grateful for the compassion of friends who had been seated in the row before me. It is now the middle of the next day and I confess as I write this, emotions are rising again within me. I cannot yet put my finger on just what the triggers in this movie are for me. But the conclusion left me feeling raw and exposed and somehow intimately vulnerable.

And that is the trick of it. It was filmed entirely on an iPhone and this gave us a gritty feel for what was happening throughout the movie. Unwittingly, but not unwillingly, we became voyeurs into the lives of the characters. Technically too the movie is superb. The continuity of the stories and characters is immaculate. The pace appears pedestrian for much of the movie and the real interest is in the characters and the sassy, often cutting (sometimes brutally so) banter that accompanies the parade through LA in search of Dinah. There is a raw human quality to this movie which just drags (pun intended) the audience in.

Dinah is finally captured and the audience is treated to darker humour. The lives of Sin Dee, Alexandra and Dinah unfold as less colourful as we glimpse the sadness and destitution that often accompanies the criminalisation of prostitution, in particular for those on the fringes of society already. We gain glimpses of drug use and the painful despairing reality of their individual worth even within their own community. It is in this jungle the three women set off in search of Chester, Dinah unwillingly dragged along by her hair.

As the audience comes to terms with the new awareness of the girls' lives we are provided an intimate insight to Razmik's life. He is Armenian and through him we become aware of cultural and ethical constructs which build on our existing understanding of our own culture and morals. Questions [should] arise. The development of characters is fabulous and the audience is conflicted by its sense of empathy for the characters but which conflicts with our moral righteousness on numerous levels. These dichotomies are played out in subtle ways throughout but never more clearly than when Sin Dee and Alexandra are searching for Dinah. Ramzik picks up a girl working the beats with which he is familiar. Having negotiated with her he is horrified to discover the girl is not transgender and he throws her out on the street exhorting her to go work elsewhere. She does not belong here.

The conclusion too is dichotomous. The audience, seduced by the characters and all their flaws wills a happy ending but has no idea how that might be achieved. It creates an expectation. The sort of expectation we have when watching movies where the heroes ride off into the sunset and life-long happiness. But too much is happening and audience senses reel as crisis after crisis unfolds, often with that underlying humour that softens the harshness of the stories.

You will have to watch for yourself if you want to find out if expectations are fulfilled. The journey through the characters' lives is well worth it.

- Shelley Howard is a Wellington trans woman who kindly reviewed this film for

Shelley Te Waiariki Howard - 25th July 2015

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