It wasn't until the end of Sean Baker's Tangerine that I realized how touching the film was. Following Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor's street-walking Sin-Dee and Alexandra around on Christmas Eve often times felt like a journey coasting on the curiosity of the unknown. There isn't a large market of films about transsexual characters shot on iPhones so it becomes easier to overlook the weaker aspects of the film for the sake of something with the appearance of fresh and new. The charisma of Taylor and Rodriguez is undeniable, but the acting varies as they try to look and sound "authentic" while trying to hit the bullet points needed for the plot. Mark Duplass, who approached Baker to make the film, delivers a similar style of dialogue along with the rest of the cast in the television show 'The League'. It usually involves revealing exposition in the form of questions that come in the midst of off-the-cuff sounding banter. Taylor and Rodriguez despite their strength of personality, don't have the skill needed to make the two sound fluid and natural, so it comes off sounding unnatural. The scene in which the two women meet and it's revealed Sin-Dee's boyfriend Chester has been cheating on her with a real woman, has a particularly stilted way of getting to what will become the driving force of the film's plot.
The similarities between Tangerine and The League don't stop at the dialogue, they also extend to the overall plot structure. Episodes of The League often involve following two separate stories that unite in some cataclysmic blunder in the final act. For Tangerine this is the huge blow out at a the doughnut shop in which Taxi Driver Razmik is discovered by his mother-in-law trying to hook up with Sin-Dee. This kind of structure isn't isolated to just The League, it's commonly found in many stories both dramatic and comedic. The challenging act of wrapping up these strands in one neat package can still be particularly impressive and satisfying for an audience member, even if it's not done very smoothly. But it's not in its execution of this formula that Tangerine achieves success, it's in the aftermath.
Having just found out her best friend slept with her boyfriend/pimp, Sin-Dee is attacked by some assholes with a cup of piss. It's a disgusting and demoralizing act, that caps off a film in which women are shown, often times humorously, making a living through demoralizing acts. Here they have no control and they can't make light of the situation and thus have lost the power of might and wit they used to control their situations throughout much of the film. The fun and games of the previous 90 minutes are over. Despite the central drama that has cracked their friendship Sin-Dee and Alexandra unite in a laundry mat, supporting each other because there is seemingly no one else who will. It's a terribly moving and honest moment that elevates the film into something special. Rodriguez and Taylor play the moment with a cocktail of sorrow and strength that only they could bring to the table. The familiar comedic formula was only the means to this end, in which we could really understand the hardships of being forced to the fringe of society. But these women aren't shown as pathetic in need of sympathy. Instead they're revealed to have the kind of resolve that most people who are lucky enough to be apart of the privileged class are too soft to develop.