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'Tangerine' review: A transgender experience portrayed in lively, human terms

Mickey O'Hagan, left, and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in

Mickey O'Hagan, left, and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in "Tangerine." Credit: TNS / Magnolia Pictures

It might not become a Christmas classic, but it's certainly a romantic comedy -- albeit with an unconventional number and variety of moving parts.

Just out of jail and hanging at the infamous Donut Stop in Hollywood, transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) finds out from her BFF Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), has been cheating on her. And with a biological woman. Hell hath no fury, etc., etc., and Sin-Dee promptly sets on a rampage to find Chester and straighten out the witch.

To call "Tangerine" unconventional is to do it an injustice. It is unconventional, but also rhythmic, energetic, fluid, funny and wonderfully acted -- if Rodriguez and Taylor didn't create such indelibly empathetic characters, the movie, directed by Sean Baker (of the underappreciated "Prince of Broadway") might have simply been camp farce.

As it is, the movie's assets -- from the ironic use of Victor Herbert's "Toyland," to the tacky, Hollywood-at-the-holidays milieu -- add up to a film that flows and flows, stopping only for a little nip of moralizing (which is kind of disappointing) and a restrained dose of pathos.

The subplot, about an Armenian cab driver named Rakmis (Karren Karagulian) and his divided attentions -- he likes the "ladies" he knows from driving around L.A., but also has a wife (Luiza Nersisyan), a baby and an insanely meddling mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian) -- keeps the story from being ghettoized. And it helps humanize everyone: Rakmis is far less honest about himself than Sin-Dee or Alexandra. At the same time, the scene in which he discovers to his shock that his "date" is really a woman may be the funniest one in the film.

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