Well, I can guarantee you haven’t seen this one before!
It’s an age-old tale of romantic tension, actually – boy hasn’t been as faithful as he should be, girl seeks revenge – but the telling’s pretty fresh.
Director Sean Baker tells his gritty story from the streets, which, incidentally, is also where his leading ladies are selling their bodies to get by. The girl in question Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from a month-long stint in jail and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) reveals that her boyfriend\pimp, Chester (James Ransone) has spent it philandering. Sin-Dee goes on a rage-filled road trip to find the other woman and get even while dodging her best customer, cab driver Ashken (Alla Tumanian).
The casting is fabulous and for once it feels real and unforced. Rodriguez and Taylor have excellent rapport and they light up the screen with warmth and vitality, even if the word “bitch” is thrown around maybe a couple dozen times too many in the first 5 minutes or so. It’s raw, both emotionally and in reality: Baker shot it on a budget of 100k and filmed it with an iPhone. This makes for a stylistically arresting movie that doesn’t look nearly as bad as you might think, and in any case you forget about it within the first 10 minutes anyway, because at its heart it’s a snappy girlfriend movie that you can’t help but be charmed by.
It’s also a movie that is not afraid to operate on the fringes, producers The Duplass brothers having mounted the first-ever Oscar campaign for its transgendered stars (it failed to garner them a nomination but cemented their legitimacy). Baker had a standing offer from Mark Duplass to make a micro-budget movie, and he’s always wanted to do something where a couple of characters meet up at Donut Time, and this is the movie that resulted. Jaded audiences have seen L.A. on the big screen a million times, but Baker shows it like we’ve never seen it before. He also gives us a behind-the-curtains peek at the sex-trade workers who populate the area. As co-writer, he immersed himself in the culture and found Taylor hanging out at a nearby LGBT centre, and the story started unfolding from there. It was a fascinating look and I felt privileged to be taken along for the ride.