Kelsa, the protagonist of Billy Porter’s “Anything’s Possible,” played by Eva Reign, has already dealt with most of the tough obstacles to claiming her identity as a trans girl: She admitted it to herself, she told her mom (a ferociously supportive Renée Elise Goldsberry), she took the blockers and the hormones, and she went back to the same school where people had previously known her as a boy. She doesn’t like it when people call her “brave” (which is what her self-given name means, incidentally), but she had to be to do all that.
Now Kelsa just wants to blend in and be an “average” girl, even if the film she carries is a sparkling celebration of in-your-face individuality. The truth is, Kelsa’s denying herself a huge part of the average high school experience by avoiding things — like falling in love — that she anticipates being unusually complicated for someone in her position.
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So how does an out trans teen deal with dating in the modern world (as opposed to doing so in, say, the tragically hostile one depicted in “Boys Don’t Cry”)? And how does a semi-shy classmate express a romantic interest when conservative parents and homophobic friends might not approve?
“Anything’s Possible” makes a decent start of answering these questions, serving up lots of by-example empowerment for self-questioning younger audiences, many of whom lack role models in this department. But it still plays a bit too much like a public service announcement — where characters embody and express trans-accepting talking points — and not enough like the funny, sexy teen rom-coms that clearly inspired it.
Making his directorial debut, Emmy-, Tony- and Grammy-winning charisma machine Porter (“Pose” on screen, “Kinky Boots” onstage) has crafted a relatively safe movie where the costumes are more confrontational than the queer element. With hair the color of a blue-raspberry Slurpee, friend Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson) helps make Kelsa seem tame by comparison.
The result’s too clean, too wholesome and too uplifting to be reasonably compared to 1980s classics like “Sixteen Candles” or “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Instead, this Amazon Studios original suggests a cross between “Love, Simon” and the goody-goody “High School Musical” series — which is fine, as far as young audiences are concerned, but it doesn’t feel enough like real life. Then again, with edgy, alarmingly hard stuff like “Euphoria” at the opposite extreme, it’s nice to find a teen movie that’s more preoccupied with matters of gender than sex.
The setup is simple: Kelsa has feelings for a boy in her class, Khal (Abubakr Ali), and doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s Black, he’s Muslim, and those categories alone might have been enough to complicate a white-bread YA romance two or three decades ago. But she’s also trans, and that’s the obstacle at play here. Khal doesn’t have an issue with who or what she is, but worries how the world will take it. And things are tricky for Kelsa, since one of her best friends, Em (Courtnee Carter), also has a crush on Khal.
“Anything’s Possible” isn’t quite a fairy tale, but it does a convenient job of simplifying everything. Khal’s younger brother — pompadour-sporting Arwin (Naveen Paddock) — discovers his secret early on and fully approves of Khal’s choice. Arwin suggests he bring Kelsa flowers, and when Khal nearly chickens out and gives them to Em instead, Arwin’s the one to steer him straight. Em’s upset by the situation, and even makes a complaint at school to get Kelsa banned from the girls’ bathrooms, but that kerfuffle works itself out fairly easily.
Mostly, “Anything’s Possible” wants to show that a couple like this can work, and that setbacks are just part of the process — opportunities for communication. Among Kelsa’s concerns: What if Khal is only interested in dating her for the “woke points”? Is that a thing kids do these days? When I came out 21 years ago (as gay, not trans), my uncomprehending dad asked me something to the effect of “Why would you choose to do something that makes your life more difficult?” as if staying in the closet and suppressing my identity would somehow make things easy. In “Anything’s Possible,” Khal knows that dating Kelsa won’t be easy, but he’s willing to give it a try, and the movie wants audiences to know that, well, anything’s possible.
Reign, the actor cast as Kelsa, reads as a radiant, self-confident young woman who has figured out most of the answers, which isn’t at all the way the character was written by Ximena García Lecuona. Maybe Porter didn’t want Kelsa to seem awkward or uncertain, but what teen isn’t? Then again, if a young trans person expresses any kind of doubts, it gives those who question their identity ammunition. Despite that risk, the movie includes a key moment, mid-make-out session, when Khal asks Kelsa, “What do you like?” and she replies, “I don’t know yet. Is that OK?” More of that vulnerability would have been welcome — and more appealing than Porter seems to realize.
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