Review: 'Anything's Possible' - Bill Porter's Trans Teen Directorial Debut

by Brian Bromberger

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday July 26, 2022

Review: 'Anything's Possible' - Bill Porter's Trans Teen Directorial Debut

If nothing else, actor-director Billy Porter's new film, "Anything's Possible," screening on Amazon Prime, confirms its title in that it has rendered steel mecca Pittsburgh, the City of Bridges, inviting, attractive, and, dare we say, romantic, whether the characters are traipsing through the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, visiting the Andy Warhol Art Gallery, or strolling along the river fronts. The movie is also a valentine to trans adolescent love, with both its joy and pain.

The best way to approach this movie is to view it as a fantasy, of what it should be like for young Black trans women rather than the often realistic trauma scenario. Intrinsic to this fairy tale, the main characters are upper middle-class seniors attending a tony private school with professional, accomplished parents.

The film opens with cheery YouTube videos created by confident, funny, and ambitious 17-year-old trans high school senior Kelsa (Eva Reign) on her secret subscriber channel. She talks about her favorite super-cool exotic animals ("What makes them unique is also what helps them survive"), as well as commentary on the transgender experience.

Life seems perfect, aided by a stylish eye-popping wardrobe (courtesy of "Pose's" costume designer Analucia McGorty) and her two BFF's Em (Courtnee Carter) and Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson), not to mention her totally supportive divorced single doctor mother (Renee Elise Goldsberry, "Hamilton").

Kelsa's primary objective is getting out of Pittsburgh to attend a university in Los Angeles or New York to pursue a zoology degree and become a nature photographer.

But life is always throwing curve balls, which for Kelsa comes via fellow student, timid, kind, and handsome Khal (Abubakr Ali), whom she meets on the first day of art class, where they partner up to paint each other's portrait. Sparks fly in a mutual crush, but Khal, though fine with Kelsa being trans, doesn't know how to proceed, worrying about being seen as a fake racking up "woke points." He consults Reddit chat room friends for advice.


After School; Special

Taking the relationship plunge, complications arise from Em, who also likes Khal, and Khal's best friend Otis, who's borderline-okay with Khal being potentially bisexual, but can't accept him dating a trans girl.

The movie charts the two teens navigating their romance, deciding whether to announce their courtship publicly on social media, worrying their dating may lead to drama. When Khal later releases Kelsa's YouTube video to the metaverse, she's furious, and it leads to trouble.

A vindictive Em, joined by a devious Otis, combine to concoct a vengeful scheme to get Kelsa banned from the women's locker room after a violent argument, forcing students to pick a side vis-à-vis trans rights. Will their relationship survive this ordeal and Khal's decision to attend trade school rather than college after graduation?

The plot has all the makings of an afterschool television special on transgender's coming-of-age, complete with embarrassing sophomoric jokes. Only, Kelsa doesn't want to be defined solely on being trans, nor pigeonholed because of her gender, but regarded as a unique individual, to be loved for who she is, even if she's still processing what that identity might be.

The problem is that Porter and trans screenplay writer Ximena Garcia Lecuona have crammed too much material into a 90-minute film, covering the full gamut of trans issues and their cultural ramifications, a tutorial on how to be a proper ally. "Anything's Possible" works less on character development, especially the supporting cast, most of whom resemble one-line stereotypes with little personality or depth.

Even the leads are defined mostly by how trans woke they are, and not much else. For example, Khal comes from a Muslim Persian family, and, despite having a loving mother, we learn almost nothing about them or their background. The likelihood they would embrace their son dating a Black trans woman seems remote.

Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali in "Anything's Possible"
Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali in "Anything's Possible"  

Undermined Exuberance
The one exception is the outstanding Goldsberry, a June Cleaver on the surface, but whose inner Rottweiler is unleashed when she finds out about Kelsa's vlogs, demanding she remove them, fearing reprisals from Internet trolls. But her inner helicopter mom emerges as she confronts another parent's aggressiveness against her daughter. The best scenes are the candid banter between mother and daughter with Kelsa unafraid to call out Goldsberry on exploiting her transness for a college admission application.

The social media influencer/television actress Reign's exuberance and spunkiness are definite assets, but are somewhat undermined because, at age 26, she's too old to be playing a teenager, in a similar fix to that in which Ben Platt found himself in last year's dismal "Dear Evan Hansen."

Her world-wiseness and controlling demeanor is contrary to Kelsa's trying-to-figure-life-out attitude, and lacks credibility. Ali, at 31, faces even more daunting challenges, especially in close-ups. These age discrepancies, no longer viable on streaming channels, create an artificiality and disconnect that subtly sabotages the material.

Still, the message behind the film — that one must have the courage and power to own who one is, especially during adolescence when one is questioning one's place in the world — comes across loud and clear. The theme that trans Black girls deserve the right to be loved, yet also own their freedom, also resonates. Being different is what makes all of us beautiful in our own idiosyncratic ways.

Porter seems determined to portray a thriving, rather than a surviving, Kelsa. As Kelsa (her name means "brave") states, "It's not that brave if you're just being who you are." But Kelsa, unlike most young Black trans women, has the luxury and support system to live out that truth.

It is refreshing to see a trans person not defined by their hardships or victimhood. With all the anti-transgender legislation sweeping the nation, it's not a small gesture that Amazon Prime has produced one of the very few movies depicting a trans romance. "Anything's Possible"'s merits of inducing hope and joy at a time of transphobia covers this topical but shallow film's multitude of sins.

www.amazon.com/Anythings-Possible

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