Turns out Tangerine isn’t the easiest movie to livetweet

The gradient isn’t an exaggeration; there is some superb use of color in this movie.

Yes, yes, yes: I know that I’m late to the party with Tangerine. This indie film’s big year was 2015, not 2016. That’s when it made headlines both for being shot exclusively using iPhone cameras — 3 iPhone 5S’s, to be precise — and for its subject: a day in the lives of two trans women (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) and a cab driver (Karren Karagulian) on the streets of Hollywood.

Well, I didn’t see Tangerine in 2015, but I did slide it onto my Netflix queue — so when I discovered the “day in the lives” in question was Christmas Eve, it seemed like a no-brainer.

What I found wasn’t always easy to livetweet. There’s nothing simple about Tangerine, despite the low-budget, DIY aesthetic and the catfight sales pitch (the film’s action kicks off when Rodriguez’s character, Sin-Dee, learns that her pimp/boyfriend has been cheating on her while she was in prison). Boiling it down to those reductive elements of camera choice and Netflix description cuts away all of the things that make this a truly beautiful film: the constant moral ambiguity, the gloriously saturated shots of LA, the rhythm alternating between accelerated aggression and leisurely reflection.

This film has an atmosphere — you can see it in the poster, or a single still cropped out of the whole. But that’s not even the whole of it. Increasingly, I was struck throughout the film by an eclectic score that surrounds Sin-Dee, Alexandra and Razmik, one minute a percussive hip-hop beat, the next a bit of Beethoven. None of these characters are just one thing, and more than anything else in this film, it’s the music that sells that pluralism.

Unfortunately, one thing Tangerine really doesn’t feel like is a Christmas movie — but that feels very intentional, a mix of the California climate and the gritty reality of these characters. All around them are signs of the season of gift-giving, and they’re all struggling to hold onto every dollar they can get.

Then again, that makes the gifts they choose to bestow all the more valuable.

Stray Observations: I haven’t gone back to this particular scene to follow my own recommendation yet, but if you watch Tangerine, consider replaying the scene at Donut Time where every character’s path crosses more. There’s not just one or two narratives going on there, as Razmik’s lies and trans dalliances are exposed to his family and the others egg on his zealous mother-in-law. Practically every character in that scene has a mini arc, even the woman working behind the counter or Alexandra sitting in the back of the shop simply watching, and none of them seem to consider the possibility that anyone else in the room might think of themselves as a protagonist. It’s a powerful, sharp sequence in a film that artfully toys with themes of selfishness without turning too judgmental an eye on any of its characters.

Best Present Under the Tree: There’s obviously WAY too much going on in this scene to laugh it off as mere humor, but that didn’t stop me from finding a vein of pitch-black comedy in the scene midway through where Razmik picks up a sex worker, flirts with her in his cab — and then throws her out once he realizes she’s a cisgender woman working the wrong block.

Spot the Santa: “Spot the Santa” is a failure! No one even sits on anyone else’s lap! A lot of the film takes place on Santa Monica but that feels like cheating.

Adjacency Quotient (-5 to +5): -4. This film takes place at Christmas, and it’s on purpose, but it’s also on purpose not Christmas-y. It’s a metaphor, see?

Overall Rating: Nine lousy donuts out of 12.

For the record, here’s the full list of Christmas-adjacent films I’ll be queuing up between now and December 24.

  1. ̶H̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶A̶l̶o̶n̶e̶
  2. ̶T̶a̶n̶g̶e̶r̶i̶n̶e̶
  3. Batman Returns
  4. Iron Man 3
  5. Eyes Wide Shut
  6. Edward Scissorhands
  7. Rent
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  9. The Holiday
  10. In Bruges
  11. Die Hard
  12. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

If you liked this impromptu review, check out my work with NotACouple, a Will & Grace podcast critiquing one episode of the show every week. We post our show notes right here on Medium!