There's probably only one humanist film that opens with the words, "Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!" accompanied by the proffering of a single, sprinkle-dusted doughnut. In Sean Baker's Tangerine, best friends, transgender women, and prostitutes Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) catch up at a doughnut joint on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland in Los Angeles, the afternoon light still sizzling outside. Sin-Dee, just sprung from a 28-day jail stay, has bought her friend a single celebratory doughnut.
The jubilant moment doesn't last long. Alexandra has to break the news that Sin-Dee's boyfriend (and pimp) cheated on her while she was in the pokey, with a non-trans woman, no less. It's all too much for Sin-Dee to bear: Enraged, she stalks off to find her deceitful paramour and the hussy who's turned his head. Alexandra follows close at Sin-Dee's heels, hoping to cool her down, although she's distracted by the task of promoting a nightclub performance she’s giving that evening. She foists a homemade flyer on every friend and acquaintance she passes, chanting, "Mary's at seven, Mary's at seven!" If she has to hypnotize her friends into attendance, she'll do it.
In the early minutes you might not be sure what you're watching. Tangerine's a comedy, of course, laced with rambunctious, exuberantly ragged dialogue. But by the end, Baker and his actors have led us to a place beyond comedy -- you may still be laughing, but your breath catches a little on the way out. Tangerine is lovely that way. Baker is careful to make sure that what people do is always secondary to who they are.