The emotional truths swirl, elide and reveal themselves in Billy Porter’s directorial debut, “Anything’s Possible.” A sweet and affecting YA romantic comedy, it follows Kelsa (Eva Reign), a Black transgender high school student, during a senior year filled with love and drama.
Kelsa is a steady young woman. She often leans on her two friends — Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson) and Em (Courtnee Carter) — for support as she navigates the pressures of both her teen years and existing as herself, a transgender woman. She upends her hard-fought stability, however, when she falls in love with Em’s crush, a kind and understanding Khal (Abubakr Ali), causing a falling out between herself and her best friend. It’s a touchy situation for Kelsa. But the anguish doesn’t deter her. Because for the first time in her life, this fiercely independent woman feels loved by someone who she feels understands her.
Kelsa and Khal are a winning duo with dynamite chemistry. They move around each other with a palpable physical freedom that softly kindles romance. The twinkle in their eyes, flashing above their knowing smiles, is the kind of awkward, teenage swooning made for comfort viewing. Porter, a Pittsburgh native, uses the city as a canvas for the couple’s love story. They have dates at the verdant conservatory and at the Andy Warhol Museum, where their attraction organically grows. Porter pulls two fantastic, lived-in performances from Ali and Reign as both demonstrate their potential to make the rom-com genre a permanent, hearty meal in their prospective careers.
The ingenious script by screenwriter Ximena García Lecuona sprang from her reading a Reddit post of a guy eliciting advice about whether he should ask a trans girl out. That feeling of insecurity occupies every corner of Lecuona’s nimble yet frank narrative.
“Anything’s Possible” takes a keen interest in the empathetic communities teenagers form on social media. Kelsa uses her confessional YouTube channel to share her journey of transitioning, relationship updates and her interest in animals, particularly how they survive their environments (a topic that resonates for a trans girl in high school). Khal spends much of his time on Reddit providing relationship advice to a myriad of romantically confused users. He is open and honest — almost to a fault — online, but he fears what will happen if his transphobic best friend, Otis (Grant Reynolds), or his old-fashioned parents learn about his relationship with Kelsa.
Khal is also the kind of well-meaning guy who believes he can fix anything, a habit that creates angst with Kelsa as her ex-friend Em, still angry about losing her crush, begins to take revenge. Em bends feminism to TERF ends by using an innocuous altercation between herself and Kelsa in a locker room to demand trans women be restricted to gender-neutral bathrooms. Sometimes the interpersonal dynamics between these characters expect the tropes about catty teenagers to do the heavy lifting, but Porter deftly calibrates these scenes as a launching pad to later critique how paternalism can masquerade as activism. Chris, for instance, forms a protest in Kelsa’s name without her permission, while Khal tries to protect his girlfriend from any of the vitriol. In the process, they view Kelsa primarily by the politics of her gender rather than her personhood. Learning not to treat people in the LGBTQIA+ community as victims is probably the firmest, most enriching lesson in a movie filled with them.
Porter’s film does leave much to be desired with the washed-out lighting. Also a couple of the supporting performances are wooden and forced. But the earnestness of the narrative is such that the visual shortcomings barely matter. With “Anything’s Possible,” an assured and intelligent debut, Porter expands the romantic comedy umbrella with gentle grace.
Rating: PG-13 for strong language, thematic material, sexual material and brief teen drinking
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
playing: Available July 22 on Prime Video