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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 08.07.15] comedy drama

The thing that often puts me off about indie dramas, and I mean indie not the pseudo-indies that cost a few million dollars (though they, along with all movies, often suffer from a similar fate), is that they tend to be precious stories about people in trouble. Writer/director Sean Baker doesn't make those types of indies. His are dramas (sometimes featuring people in trouble) with heart that feel authentic and real in a way that most others don't. They're raw and charismatic and always fun to watch. Perhaps that's the key here: there's a sense of humour and energy to his projects that speak to a global audience. With Tangerine, Baker is finally getting the attention he so greatly deserves.

By now you've probably heard about Tangerine, the movie shot on an iPhone (more on that here and here). Sure, that might be a good pick-up line but the movie has far more going for it than that ice breaker. In typical Baker style, the story picks-up without pretence or unnecessary back story. Best friends Alexandra and Sin-Dee are reunited on Christmas Eve after being apart for a short while. In their hurried conversational style, Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee's deadbeat boyfriend has been sleeping around with another girl. This revelation kicks off a night of adventure as Sin-Dee madly traverses the streets of Hollywood in search of her pimp boyfriend and along the way, the women meet up with a colourful cast of characters including a cabbie named Razmik who has a crush on Sin-Dee and is dealing with his own problems at home.

The thing that makes Baker's movies special is that they inhabit the sweet spot between art and entertainment. From the opening frame of Tangerine you know you've hit on something special and then the comedy kicks in and you automatically feel yourself relax into the adventure. The way the movie was shot might be a major point of discussion but the editing of Tangerine is even more interesting. There's a kinetic energy that pops from the screen immediately thanks to the chemistry between leads Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in the opening scene but as soon we follow the women out of Donut Time, it feels like we've been shot with adrenaline. It's like watching a dramatic version of Crank; it's an energetic romp that culminates into a showdown that is both hilarious and sad.

As it pulls back layers and introduces new characters, Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch are confident enough in the material and the actors to simply let Tangerine flow with the story rather than resort to filling in histories and make connections with flashbacks or over explanation. This is filmmaking that doesn't hold your hand but it also doesn't drown you with over complications. We're simply observers of one night in these people's lives and we learn just enough about all of these characters to feel for them.

Baker's movies strike the perfect balance of insightful drama and the comedy of every day life. Beyond that, they provide an interesting insiders perspective on some of culture's colourful underbelly. You can't go wrong watching a Sean Baker film and Tangerine is as great place to start as any – probably even better than most since it's likely playing at your local theatre. Not only does it looks fantastic on the big screen but it plays well with a crowd.

Tangerine is currently playing in select markets across the US and expands further in the coming weeks.

Recommended Release: Starlet

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