Synopsis: Kelsa is a confident trans girl trying to get through senior year. When her classmate Khal gets a crush on her, he musters up the courage to ask her out, despite the drama he knows it could cause.
Stars: Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtnee Carter, Kelly Lamor Wilson, Grant Reynolds
Director: Billy Porter
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Rolling things back to the old school days of riding your bike or driving your car to the video store and renting a movie, I remember when I started noticing a niche market of films marketed to the LGBTQ+ community. While most releases had several (or, if you were Blockbuster, dozens) of copies available, these would only have one lone copy, and good luck finding it in. You had to almost stalk the shelves until the title you were eyeing got re-shelved, and even then, you could be stuck with a stinker. Like many a curious youth, one of the first I remember getting was 1999’s now cult favorite Trick starring master thespian Tori Spelling. While the production values were iffy and the romantic entanglements of the leading males terminally arch, it showed me that there was space being made for these stories to be told.
I wish we’d come a bit further in the years since, but significant progress has still been made. 2018’s Love, Simon moved the dial, and I think Anything’s Possible will continue turning up the volume. Directed by Tony-winning Broadway legend Billy Porter and set in his hometown of Pittsburgh, what we have here feels like a first, at least in my book. A high school romantic comedy between a trans girl and a male-identifying classmate might not seem quite the revolutionary breakthrough, but the shots at normalizing it are. Not attempting to alter the viewers’ perceptions at the outset, Porter’s film focuses on letting love bloom, only allowing that outside world in when necessary.
As she begins her senior year, Kelsa (Eva Reign) appears ready to face the world outside the high school bubble. With friends by her side and a protective, slightly overinvolved single mother (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Waves), always her biggest cheerleader, Kelsa has the kind of confidence many of her peers envy. Deep down, though, she has the same insecurities she keeps hidden because there’s already enough that’s out there for the world to dissect. Growing up as trans, her classmates have largely accepted her, but there’s still the fear of rejection, a feeling that has persisted since her father left the family.
This year will be different, though; it starts on day one with an art class that pairs her with Khal (Abubakr Ali), a boy from her class with his own set of hang-ups and societal norms with which to contend. The spark is there from the start between the two, and a flirtation develops, but the problem is that Kelsa’s best friend (Courtnee Carter) had eyes for Khal first and doesn’t take being passed over for Kelsa as a true friend would. As a cautious relationship between the new couple emerges, Kelsa sees her friendship replaced with being ostracized from her former friend group. The more she puts herself out there for the world to see, the greater her chance of getting hurt worse. Dreaming of a life far away from high school and recognizing Khal doesn’t share that same path is another roadblock on their journey to romance, but on this trip, as with any love worth pursuing, anything’s possible.
For Porter’s first directing gig, Anything’s Possible is as fresh as a daisy with an eclectic array of new faces assembled for the high schoolers. I wasn’t familiar with much of this cast, but for the first time in a long while, you feel like you’re seeing several future stars at the genesis of their long careers. There’s something to Porter’s magic touch that gives the film its emotional center without having to delve deep into overindulgent displays on the part of the actors. The only major moment of high drama acting comes between Goldsberry and Reign. It’s the kind of mother-daughter argument that works well because of the writing (though Ximena García Lecuona’s script is often quite clever) and because both actresses have lived their characters so thoroughly that it comes across as an uncomfortably honest moment of truth.
The chemistry between Reign and Ali is lovely, and while I have to wonder just how realistic it was to give Khal quite so many open-book/open-mind traits (his one flaw can’t be that he can’t NOT be a good person) when the two of them are together the movie clicks. Porter has a real find in Reign. There are times when you can see the shaky acting of a newcomer, but either those scenes were shot early on, or there was another reason we aren’t aware. Eventually, Reign warms up as the film goes along. You might think Tony Award winner Goldsberry has a little yawn-er of a role, but wait and see what a mother’s frustration can unleash in the wrong circumstances. It won’t be for this movie, but trust that Goldsberry is getting more major award recognition within the next five years.
I liked that Porter didn’t bite off more than he could chew with his freshman attempt at filmmaking in a studio setting. Despite a closing credit dance song that comes across as pretty silly (and, I think, under-rehearsed?), mainly because the actors appear to be a little embarrassed to be doing it, Anything’s Possible is more than a passable romantic teen comedy. There are admirable messages to be delivered and the kind of third act when everything gets twisted up and resolved…but don’t think you’ve figured out how it will end. These are times of change, impermanence, and maybe ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t equate to what it did all those years back. And that’s OK. Or perhaps it ends like every other rom-com we’ve seen before in the most expected way imaginable. It’s possible.