It might be a stretch to call them both romantic comedies, but if your definition is flexible, then Tangerine and Results are two of the best of the genre(s) in a long time.
Tangerine is now famous for being shot on the iPhone, but that’s not what really makes it interesting. Sean Baker’s yellow-soaked, LA-set story of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender prostitute recently released from a short prison stint who tears through Los Angeles to find the pimp, Chester (James Ransone), who cheated on her, is so high energy that it almost feels like a music video at times.
The film is basically an extended chase sequence – and a long one at that – that intercuts with the story of Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver with some sexual proclivities that his mother-in-law doesn’t like.
I wonder if a large portion of the budget for the film went to the soundtrack. It blasts throughout, and Baker (who also cut the film) often cuts hard on the beat. Maybe in some films that’s a boring music video technique, here it works. Sin-Dee’s LA streets aren’t dour and dangerous – they’re fun and bouncy. That’s not to say that Tangerine isn’t aware of the dangers of the profession and of prejudice. Both are represented pretty fully in the film, but Baker wants more to make this a two-hander (Sin-Dee and her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that leads frenetically to a gang’s all here ending.
The light in the film is harsh and direct, so when a scene comes later in the film where Alexandra sings to a most-empty bar and the light suddenly feels soft, careful, and purple, it’s a huge change, and a welcome digression from the blazing west coast streets.
Baker’s camera swoops and moves a lot – trailing, leading, and framing in unexpected angles. There’s something about the camera choreography that wants to move the characters along faster than they themselves are capable of; like the image is pushing and urging.
Baker’s film has an insistence on real locations (there’s a lot of text from signs and facades in Tangerine), and on real people. Did the producers get releases from everyone in here? For a seemingly low budget film it’s pretty amazing how many LA denizens make the background of the film.
The iPhone is likely one of the reasons for such a great depth of field:
The opening scene that this still is from is full of continuity errors and some cuts that feel just a bit jarring. If it lends an air of amateurism that’s a) intentional, and b) a feeling that disappears very shortly. There’s something rugged about this opening that sets the tone for what’s to come.
Andrew Bujalski’s Results is a far visual cry from his last film (which I also really liked), Computer Chess. This one is a true rom-com, though a bit more surly than others in the same vein. Cobie Smulders stars opposite Guy Pearce as Kat and Trevor, two fitness instructors whose on-again, off-again romance is interrupted by the appearance of Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a down-on-his-luck millionaire.
Results is good for a lot of the standard reasons – it just does them all exceedingly well. The leads are great and the script works. The comedy comes naturally. There’s not much slapstick here (which you might think you’d get from a film that revolves around working out, which has the potential for a lot of falls, pants-splits, etc). Rather, it’s derived from interactions and foreshadowing (a great example being Danny’s need to “take a punch” which plays back later and beautifully in the film).
The film also manages to avoid cliche in its structure. The romance between Kat and Trevor isn’t introduced right away. There are very few scenes of them “together.” The obvious route – Danny coming easily between them – is totally subverted by the start of the third act. All of that adds up to something that’s light but still keeps you on your toes – hard to do in such a long-standing genre.
Like Tangerine there’s a huge emphasis on music, though here it’s often diegetic and used in a slightly more traditional way (crosscuts, montages, etc).
There’s gravitas in Results (a rather heartbreaking scene between Danny and his ex-wife), and unexpected reactions (Trevor’s to Kat’s “I love you” admission). There’s also a sense of an unknown (or at least unpredictable) future for all of the lead characters by the end of the film – another difficult trick to pull off in a romantic comedy.