Kelsa, the protagonist of Billy Porter’s Anything’s Possible, played by Eva Reign, has already faced most of the difficult obstacles to asserting her trans identity: She’s admitted it to herself, she told her mother (a extremely supportive Renée Elise Goldsberry), she took the blockers and the hormones, and she went back to the same school where people used to know her as a boy. She doesn’t like it when people call her “brave” (which her new name means, by the way), but she had to be to do all of that.
Now Kelsa just wants to fit in and be an “average” girl, even if the movie she’s wearing is a sparkling celebration of individuality. The truth is, Kelsa denies herself much of the average high school experience by avoiding things — like falling in love — that she expects to be unusually complicated for someone in her position. So how does an out-trans teen deal with dating in the modern world (as opposed to, say, the tragically hostile one portrayed in Boys Don’t Cry)? And how does a semi-shy classmate express a romantic interest when conservative parents and homophobic friends might disagree?
Anything’s Possible makes a good start in answering these questions and provides plenty of empowering examples for self-questioning younger viewers who lack many role models in this area. But it still plays a little too much like a public service announcement – in which characters embody and express transaccepting talking points – and not enough like the fun, sexy teenage rom-coms that clearly inspired it. In his directorial debut, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy-winning charisma machine Porter (“Pose” on screen, “Kinky Boots” on stage) has made a relatively safe film in which the costumes are more confrontational than the queer element . With hair the color of a blue-raspberry Slurpee, friend Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson) helps Kelsa appear tame by comparison.
The result is too clean, healthy, and uplifting to be reasonably compared to 1980s classics like “Sixteen Candles” or “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Instead, this Amazon Studios original proposes a mix of Love, Simon and the goody-goody series High School Musical — which is fine for young audiences, but it doesn’t feel like real life enough. Then again, with edgy, alarmingly heavy stuff like “Euphoria” on the other end, it’s nice to find a teen flick that deals more with gender issues than sex.
The set-up 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 romance with young men two or three decades ago. But she’s also trans, and that’s the obstacle at play here. Khal has no problem with who or what she is, but she worries how the world will take it. And it’s difficult for Kelsa, since one of her best friends, Em (Courtnee Carter), also has a crush on Khal.
“Everything is possible” is not a fairy tale, but it simplifies everything in a pleasant way. Khal’s younger brother – Arwin (Naveen Paddock) with a pompadour – discovers his secret early on and wholeheartedly approves of Khal’s choice. Arwin suggests that he bring flowers for Kelsa, and when Khal almost stops and gives them to Em instead, Arwin is the one who puts him on the right track. Em is upset about the situation and even complains at school to get Kelsa banned from the girls’ restroom, but this kerfuffle works out pretty easily.
Above all, “Anything’s Possible” wants to show that such a couple can work and that setbacks are part of it – opportunities for communication. On Kelsa’s concerns, what if Khal is only interested in meeting her for the “sentry points”? Do kids do that these days? When I came out (as gay, not trans) 21 years ago, my uncomprehending father asked me something along the lines of, “Why would you choose to do something that would make your life harder?” as if it were somehow easier to stay in the closet and suppress my identity. In Anything’s Possible, Khal knows that dating Kelsa won’t be easy, but he’s willing to try, and the film wants viewers to know that anything is possible.
Reign, the actress cast as Kelsa, reads as a radiant, confident young woman who has figured out most of the answers, which is not at all how the character was written by Ximena García Lecuona. Maybe Porter didn’t want Kelsa to seem awkward or insecure, but what teen isn’t? On the other hand, if a young trans person raises any doubts, it gives ammunition to those who question her identity. Despite this risk, the film contains a key moment, midway through the make-out session, when Khal asks Kelsa, “What do you like?” and she replies, “I don’t know yet. Is that okay?” More of that vulnerability would have been welcome — and more appealing than Porter seems to think.