Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone
My curiosity surrounding this indie phenomenon has been at bursting point for weeks now. The feature film shot entirely on a handful of iPhones, for around $800; impressive stuff already. After huge success during festival season, this film has broken down some barriers to say the least. From deceiving audiences with the remarkable quality of this smartphone production, to its transgender stars going from never having acted before to now being tipped as outside shots for awards season. Even before watching, I knew this film was special – this film will surely spark a filmmaking revolution – but after watching I am now absolutely certain that this is the most innovative, intriguing and inspirational film of 2015.
The narrative behind this film is actually rather trivial, and similarly to ‘Beasts Of No Nation’, is pretty low down in the list of things you mention regarding this film. The reputation truly precedes all other aspects here – you don’t watch this to see whether Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) works out her relationship problems with her cheating pimp of a fella. You’re watching this to see what a feature film made on a smartphone looks like, and to see how two controversial casting choices fare under the flash of the iPhone camera. The Tarantino-esque plot – which intertwines the lives of two transgender prostitutes, the pimp, his whore and a married man who has a secret fetish for going down on his prostitute friends – is an interesting and entertaining one, but that is not why you’re here.
Before I start to heap praise on the leading ladies, I have to say the entire cast is actually really, really good. However, the absolute stars of the show are Mya Taylor and the fiery Rodriguez. Taylor, who plays Alexandra, is the more reserved, sensible of the pair (in a lesser of two evils kinda scenario), but is superb all the same. She carries off a very grounded, rational persona, which appears to mask a deeper emotional side that we only get glimpses of. Then there’s Rodriguez, A.K.A Sin-Dee, who from the word go is a feisty, violent and strong- minded individual. She brings a perfect humour to the story too; a much needed comic relief from the seedy backdrop of events. Authenticity levels are through the roof, particularly from Rodriguez, who I can very easily imagine is exactly like this in real life. That is not to detract anything from the performance though, which for me is a real contender for the best of 2015. Oscar nomination anyone?
Filmmaking wise, I was very impressed throughout. Not only is this a brilliantly shot film “for an iPhone”, it is genuinely a very intelligent and accomplished piece of filmmaking, full stop. Quick cuts and smooth panning shots make this a really impacting and rather intense production, matched up expertly with a perfect soundtrack; again, possibly one of the best of 2015. The colouring – predominately an orange glow, similar to a tangerine perhaps – is consistent throughout and sets up a rather surreal environment for proceedings. My only qualm, and this could possibly be down to the version I watched, is that the creepy Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), and his family spoke Armenian A LOT, but I was given no subtitles. I don’t know if it was intentional, and at first I actually quite enjoyed the mystery of it all, but by the end I felt rather excluded.
I’m being careful not to judge this with the handicap of being made on a smartphone. That would be an insult to director Sean Baker and the whole concept of finding new and exciting ways to create film. So, ignoring the hype and simply judging this as an independent feature film, it is pretty damn good. I didn’t think the story would hook me in like it did; I didn’t think it would carry such a comedic element; I didn’t think the lead actresses would be THAT good and I didn’t think the film would be put together so brilliantly. I was wrong, and on this occasion I’m very pleased to admit that. This is a real treat, and I believe it will be regarded as an important piece of cultural history in years to come. All hail Apple and the iPhone.