In the very fast-moving “Anything’s Possible,” a romantic comedy set in a Pittsburgh high school, there are scenes between the two leads, Kelsa (Eva Reign) and Khal (Abubakr Ali, “Power Book II: Ghost”), that feel fresh and realistic, and this is mainly due to the script by Ximena García Lecuona, which makes the youthful characters and their parents very sensitive and likable.
But this movie starts to go wrong, unfortunately, when the carefully delineated characters get shoehorned into a series of plot-and-issue confrontation scenes that feel very rushed and contrived after the ingratiating realism of the courtship scenes from the first third of the picture.
The first few minutes of “Anything’s Possible” are fairly rocky, as we get introduced to Kelsa and her friends and Kelsa’s divorced mother (Renée Elise Goldsberry of “Hamilton” and “Girls5eva”), who is raising Kelsa by herself. Kelsa has a YouTube channel where she talks about the animal kingdom and how she loves certain animals: “What makes them unique also helps them survive,” she says. Kelsa is trans, and she is presented as very bright and self-aware.
The movie finds its footing nearly right away in a love-at-first-sight scene in art class where Kelsa stumbles in and Khal looks at her with interest and slow-dawning love. When we see Khal with his family, the conversation turns to poetry, and Khal’s quick-witted mother says that this was “a viable career option in the 13th century.” The tone established here is cultured and sharp, and “Pose” star Billy Porter, making his directorial debut with this movie, draws you in to the distinctive language of various groups in these early scenes.
Kelsa worries that people may pretend to like her just to be “woke,” and she also worries that Khal himself might be interested in her for reasons other than simple attraction, but it is made very clear and convincing that Khal is drawn to her as a person, and he is particularly drawn to her eloquence, which maybe reminds him of his own family.
Kelsa is a teenager who is sophisticated enough to worry about being perceived as “self-congratulatory,” and this is so winning that it is easy to see why Khal is drawn to her. There is real charm in their interactions with each other, particularly in a well-staged scene where they admit to feeling awkward before moving in for a kiss and a very expressively awkward roll around on a lawn.
Up to this point, “Anything’s Possible” has carefully avoided being a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy and has insisted on plausibility of both character and situation. In real life, Kelsa and Khal would likely have trouble at school of some kind, but when that trouble comes for them onscreen, it seems as if there were a bunch of boxes that needed to be checked off for “trans issues that need to be addressed.”
The big problem with these issue scenes is that they are done so hurriedly that all believability falls away and superficial “drama” takes its place. And all this drama gets resolved so quickly that it doesn’t finally feel like these issues are particularly difficult or challenging – that is, of course, not the case. All the characters begin to yell at each other, and then they yell even louder, and then they rush away only to come back and yell some more until this section of the movie winds down, and we can get back to the love story.
Porter can’t resist including a shot of a mural of himself as his lovebirds visit the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, but the conclusion of “Anything’s Possible” is once again as sensitive and plausible as the courtship scenes between Kelsa and Khal – who are, after all, young and will need to find their way with others once they go to college. If only “Anything’s Possible” had been content to depict this relationship in all its newness onscreen without burdening these two appealing characters with a pile-on of issues more suited to a newspaper editorial than a narrative feature.
“Anything’s Possible” launches globally on Prime Video July 22.