RRepresentation can be a double-edged sword. There is an undeniable power in seeing yourself reflected on screen, in normalizing marginalized identities, but the focus on visibility alone can reduce complex characters to one identity, one presentation, one checkbox on a list. That’s the fine line walked by Anything’s Possible, a coming-of-age rom-com directed by Pose star Billy Porter, and in its smartest moments, the overriding internal dilemma for Kelsa (Eva Reign), a confident but guarded black, teenage transgender girl from Pittsburgh who, in her own words, wants to thrive in her senior year of high school rather than just survive.
Porter’s directorial debut, written by trans screenwriter Ximena García Lecuona, leans heavily on such hashtag language, which divides the 96-minute film, released on Amazon this week, about equally between banal shots (if well-meaning) and fresh fun. Case in point: “My best friends make survival look good,” Kelsa says in one of her YouTube videos, which double as effective voiceovers and footage. The commentary alone is sassy and an effective introduction to her BFFs – diva Em (Courtnee Carter) and punk Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson), two oversized personalities without much backstory – but hit the ground running. consistent comparison of high school life scenario. to the animal kingdom, à la Mean Girls. (Kelsa, an aspiring zoologist, compares Chris to a howler monkey and the feeling of having a crush to “having a freshwater eel in your throat.”)
Kelsa, like any high school girl, has pressing concerns: she wants to leave Pittsburgh to go to college in New York or Los Angeles. She tries to balance an uninhibited expression (the three girlfriends’ outfits are inspired by Porter’s reputation as a fluid fashion maven) and being treated like a normal teenager; she often invokes the “law of averages” to her single mother, played with almost too bubbly energy by Renée Elise Goldsberry (Girls5Eva, Hamilton’s original Angelica) – as in, treat her like any average mother of a average teenage girl would.
But true to life and cinematic form, Kelsa is pressured more by one guy: Khal Zubai (Abubakr Ali, giving Dan Humphrey some serious vibes), a nice Muslim boy whose Egyptian parents push him to date a “maid” four-year college. (It’s refreshing to see a character longing to attend a local trade school, instead of the protagonists’ Ivy League dreams in recent teen films such as the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Along for the Ride and Hello, Goodbye and Everything else.)
Khal, stuttering and sweet, reciprocates Kelsa’s attraction, and the first half of the film is an immersive fall in love, then love, with them – despite Em’s stated interest in Khal, a roadblock that seems more contrived than convincing. Both are shy and endearingly awkward in person, but confident and confessional online — Kelsa in her YouTube videos, which evolve from diartic tales of hormone blockers to do-it-all laments about sex just for the sake of it. savoring a crush; Khal as an anonymous Redditer on r/relations, where he dispenses and asks for advice (Lecuona said a real Reddit post about asking out a trans girl inspired the script.)
At times, the film brings up thorny contradictions – Kelsa wants to talk directly about “trans stuff” on her public YouTube channel but doesn’t want too much attention, wants Khal to take care of her but doesn’t focus on her trans- ness, wants to be seen and loved but not fought. These paradoxes are specific to Kelsa’s experience but also largely related to adolescence in the age of the internet, the discovery of one’s identity, and the balance between expression and overexposure.
Unfortunately, the film hastily buries those complexities in a hairpin twist to the naughty, courtesy of Em and Otis (Grant Reynolds) — Khal’s best friend, a black teenager whose blatant transphobia feels dumped — and then just as quickly resolves most of said badness for the sake of resolution. Until the bittersweet coda, the film’s second act turns into what feels like an attempt to reference as many pressing (and genuinely upsetting) trans issues as possible – toilet bans, the false moral rectitude of TERF, the terrifying experience of going viral on an internet full of trolls, white women co-opting the pain of black women for attention. Any of these plagues could have been interesting territory to test Kelsa and Khal’s relationship with an unfortunate and painful reality, but the result is less nuanced than a cacophony of tweets as dialogue that doesn’t add anything consistent.
Luckily, Anything’s Possible is lightweight enough to override all of that. Porter films his hometown of Pittsburgh with clear appreciation, though the film’s school scenes are stylistically indistinguishable from many Netflix teen productions. With a mop of dark curls brushed over battered eyes, Ali, 31, looks younger than he is, but too old to talk about SATs and college apps. Still, her chemistry with the dynamic Reign, more than up to the task as a romantic leader, is enough to see their relationship through to the inevitable departure into an unknown and open future.
The answer often given to a lack of representation, trans representation specifically, on screen is more, on all fronts, in all roles and genres. Anything Is Possible is another necessary step in the right direction – a high school rom-com about a bold and daring trans teenager on a major streaming platform.