Anything’s Possible is a well-intentioned film that is unfortunately undone by its shallow lip service and artless execution.
Amazon’s new teen romance Anything’s Possible is remarkable for the fact that it’s somehow the first mainstream film to feature a transgender character as its lead. Unfortunately, this is the only remarkable thing about the movie, a by-the-numbers coming-of-age flick that is undeniably sweet and well-intentioned but also incredibly rote, its sheen of wokeness working overtime to distract from the hollowness at its core. Electrifying lead Eva Reign is certainly done no favors by actor Billy Porter’s directorial debut, which casts the first-time actress as Kelsa, a 17-year-old high school senior who, as the film opens, is recording a video for her secret YouTube channel in which she discusses how animals are super cool because they are often named for their most unique trait. It’s a detail that will later take on greater meaning when we learn that Kelsa actually means “brave,” because Ximena Garcia Lecuona’s script worships at the altar of dramatic irony. That Lecuona even thinks for one moment that the only transgender individual at her high school could film a private YouTube channel unbeknownst to her fellow classmates only proves the screenwriter’s total obliviousness when it comes to social media, a fact that is made evident ad nauseam throughout the film’s short runtime.
As Kelsa helpfully explains through her various recordings, she is ready to conquer her senior year and get the hell out of dodge, eager to start a new life where she is not defined solely by her transness. The film also uses Kelsa’s YouTube channel to bring to light a number of issues that a transitioning individual has to deal with on a daily basis, such as the various surgeries and hormone treatments, not to mention the micro-aggressive questions and too-frequent judgments. Unfortunately, the fact that Porter and Lecuona are unable to intricately weave such discussions organically in the film’s larger narrative only proves how little artistry actually exists here. This is made further apparent when coupled with Porter’s surprisingly bland direction, which is as flat and ugly-looking as anything Judd Apatow ever made, a baffling development given the bold and colorful man at the helm — if one were to shotgun a drink every time an establishing shot of the high school was shown, they would be drunk by minute ten.
While Kelsa vows never to date anyone from her school, she of course ends up falling for the exceedingly sweet Khal (Abubakr Ali), who harbors his own concerns about starting a relationship with Kelsa, such as the potential reaction of his homophobic best pal Otis (Grant Reynolds) and overly conservative parents, not to mention the entire student body itself. There are also the vicious machinations of Kelsa’s former best friend, Em (Courtnee Carter), who harbored a crush on Khal and vows to take down Kelsa by getting her banned from the girls’ locker room after a heated argument that briefly turns violent. This event sets off a political powder keg at the school, forcing the student body to pick a side when it comes to trans rights. But much like every other plot development that could prove the least bit dramatically interesting or discursively perceptive, the film quickly loses interest and drops it, because it has another montage set to a generic indie pop song to highlight.
Truly, the movie works so hard to avoid anything resembling insight that it almost seems intentional, as if both Porter and Lecuona wanted to deliver a paint-by-numbers teen romance that just happened to feature a trans female at its center in a bid at normalization and representation. This would be a lot easier to buy, though, if the film didn’t keep stopping dead in its tracks to address its Very Important Message in the most self-congratulatory way possible, as if merely paying lip service to such themes is sufficiently respectful of the history of trans individuals who have paved the way for girls like Kelsa. Indeed, the film goes out of its way to paint Kelsa as someone who is brave simply because she doesn’t see herself as such, or as Kelsa explicitly states, “It’s not that brave if you’re just being who you are.” There is something simple yet profound in such a statement, but Kelsa is barely developed as a character beyond her transness, save for the whole animal-loving thing, which undercuts much of the film’s messaging.
Anything’s Possible also repeatedly presents thornier subject matter — such as Kelsa’s mother (Renee Elise Goldsberry) discovering her daughter’s YouTube channel and demanding its removal, even though Kelsa rightly calls her out on the fact that she exploits her daughter’s transness when it is convenient for her, such as a college admissions application — but refuses to follow-through on anything that can’t be solved with a golden hour kiss. The same dramatic apathy plagues the characterization of Khal, who is forced to deal with his own unfortunate social prejudices, such as the assumption that he is gay or simply dating a trans girl for “woke points.” These are all fascinating topics to explore, and certainly talking points rarely addressed in a streaming network’s latest teen romance, but the film has no patience for such depth, especially when its director has to highlight a mural of himself painted on the side of a building, or present a background light display that features both pink and blue lighting, because cultural and social gender signifiers are about as complex as any of this gets. It’s impossible to deny that the existence of Anything’s Possible is at least a step in the right direction for a backwards studio system; one merely wishes it was as brave as the individuals it so desperately and artlessly attempts to champion.
You can stream Billy Porter’s Anything’s Possible on Amazon Prime Video beginning on July 22.