Popular books get adapted into film all the time. But what if a novel was opted for a movie before its publication? Readers will probably be scratching their heads and asking the questions, “Why?” and “Would it be worth it?”
That was the situation Tangerine by Christine Mangan fell into months prior to its release. In 2018, George Clooney acquired the film rights for his production company Smoke House Pictures, and Scarlett Johansson was set to play a main character in it (sadly, no other information has surfaced since then). This review will use Tangerine as an example of whether or not optioning for the book before it hits the shelves is worth it.
Tangerine takes readers to 1956 Tangier, Morocco, where English newlywed Alice Shipley resides with her husband John. She is fragile and rarely goes outside of the apartment. This changes when Lucy Mason – Alice’s American friend and roommate at Bennington – shows up unannounced, and neither have spoken to each other for over a year. Being the more independent and adventurous of the two, Lucy slowly takes Alice out of her comfort zone. However, memories resurfaced on what happened that severed their friendship in the first place, and Alice starts to feel unease in Lucy’s company. Suddenly, John disappears, and Alice begins to question everything around her like Lucy, Tangier, and even her own mind.
When I was reading Tangerine, I noticed that it had a very Hitchcockian vibe. What I mean by this is that it contains an innocent person accused of a crime, characters that can’t be trusted, a book cover that utilizes darkness as a form of impending doom, and references to a crime in passing as opposed to presenting it explicitly. However, there was one aspect that could have been handled more effectively, and that was what occurred on the night Alice and Lucy last spoke to each other at Bennington. It was not about the act itself (though I was initially confused), but in the logistics of how that could have happened without a certain participant knowing about it. Even though that aspect could have been handled better, the Hitchcockian tone made the novel a little more interesting.
The book also evokes 1940s and 1950s films by having suspenseful action take place in an exotic location. In fact, some Hitchcock movies had unique backdrops like Notorious (Brazil), To Catch a Thief (French Rivera), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (Morocco). In those films, the one-of-a-kind locations were mostly used as nothing more than one-of-a-kind locations. In other words, there was not much of a reason why the story took place there. Also, some of the villains or shady characters in these pictures tended to be natives of that land. Tangerine has a shady character in Youssef, and a lot of the Moroccan men are referred to as “mosquitoes”.Even though this is racist, that kind of racism was usually present in the flicks mentioned above that the novel obviously took inspiration from. I am not saying that I approve of this. Also, in Tangerine, the main characters talk about the brewing movement for independence; the book itself takes place in 1956, the same year Morocco gained its freedom from France. This aspect would have made a great allegory to how Alice feels in her marriage as well as how Lucy wants to be free from the constraints around her (even if it means literally taking on someone else’s name). However, this doesn’t really go anywhere. If the movie version is actually made, I would love to see how this is fleshed out.
In addition, the novel contains some sexual politics. The book switches back and forth on both women’s perspectives, and it seems to imply (and believe me, a lot is IMPLIED) that Lucy is a lesbian and that she and Alice may have had a relationship that was beyond friendship. Again, this is another aspect that could have made the novel a lot more interesting, yet the book doesn’t really take it anywhere. This is especially true when Lucy becomes more obsessed with Alice and manipulative. With this alone, readers might infer that lesbians are bad, while straight women are good. Like with the tension for Moroccan independence, I would love to see this developed more in the movie.
The only real thing that I have to complain about is that the ending is predictable. Most of the book is actually a slow burn, so it relies on the finale and ending to be the make or break points. In fact, in the dust jacket summary of the novel, it makes a big deal out of John’s disappearance, yet that only occurs in the third act. It builds to that, yet it’s not very satisfying. I will not spoil it for you, but what is foreshadowed in the beginning is exactly what happens at the end. I am not going to lie, but I got really angry over this ending because of how expected it was. However, I calmed myself down when I figured out who the real protagonist was.
Overall, I can see why George Clooney opted for Tangerine by Christine Mangan for a movie. It does have a cinematic feel as it pays homage to a lot of 1940s and 1950s movies, especially those directed by Hitchcock. There are elements that I would like to see developed more in the movie like the independence and the lesbian scenarios. I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy old film noirs like the ones directed by Hitchcock, those who adore Patricia Highsmith, and those who love the books Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. While I like the book, I hope the flick will be better.
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