The 40th anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival kicked off tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown LA with Billy Porter’s enchanting directorial debut, Anything’s Possible, produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films.
As the film opens, we meet the radiantly beautiful and stylish Kelsa (Eva Reign, making an impressive feature acting debut) on the first day of her senior year at high school. With college applications looming, she’s keen to leave Pittsburgh for New York or Los Angeles, somewhere nobody knows her. She does have close friends at school though, in Em (Courtnee Carter) and Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson), who share Kelsa’s passion for fashion. With Porter well-known for serving iconic lewks himself, the film doesn’t disappoint in that aspect with costume designer Analucia McGorty bringing some gorgeous sequined glamour to the high school corridors—along with a feather boa for Kelsa’s first day of classes—which gives things an uplifting shimmer. Porter’s mark is also present as a performer and songwriter on the upbeat soundtrack (alongside predominantly LGBTQ+ artists such as his Pose co-star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Kim Petras, SOPHIE, and Shea Diamond), as well as in the film’s warmth and search truthfulness in every moment, even when things are a little heightened. He has a nice cameo too, in the form of a street art homage to his 2020 Grammys red carpet arrival in that showstopping crystalline curtain fringed hat.
Also making her feature debut as a screenwriter is Ximena García Lecuona. Eschewing traditional voice over, Lecuona instead gives Kelsa a vibrant YouTube channel where she talks about her fascination with the animal kingdom, and humankind’s place within it, as well as her experience of being a trans teen. Her vlogs allow us to get to know the thoughts that she’s happy to share online with her subscribers, but that she doesn’t necessarily want to talk about at home or with her friends. From the start, Lecuona empowers Kelsa to own her own narrative, and crucially its Kelsa herself who is the first character to mention that she is of trans experience.
Dating was not on Kelsa’s agenda for her final year of high school, but when she’s paired with the handsome, sensitive, and adorably goofy cis boy Khal (Abubakr Ali) in art class and they’re assigned to paint each other’s portraits, the chemistry between them is immediately palpable, and both are quickly smitten. A complication is soon thrown into the mix when Em casually admits that she has a crush on Khal, before Kelsa has had chance to talk about her own burgeoning feelings for him.
It’s refreshing in an LGBTQ film that this complication comes from such a familiar high school scenario and doesn’t have anything to do with Kelsa being trans. Rather like Heartstopper, Anything’s Possible isn’t set in a fantasy world free of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment or trauma for queer and trans youth, but both the hit Netflix series and this film generally choose to hint at, rather dwell on, that hatred and rejection. As the film progresses, some ignorance and targeted use of transphobia does rear its ugly head, but thankfully it’s isolated and Kelsa’s high school is a predominantly supportive environment. We learn that Kelsa’s absent father didn’t accept his trans daughter, but Kelsa’s mother Selene (a wonderful Renée Elise Goldsberry) more than makes up for it with her fierce love for her child. In fact, the film’s most powerful and moving scenes are between Kelsa and Selene, as well as between Khal and his mother, Selda (an excellent Mirium Laube). Just as Kelsa isn’t defined by her trans identity, nor is Khal or his family defined by being Muslim or any associated stereotypes.
There’s also some tension in the form of Khal’s unsophisticated and misguided best friend Otis (Grant Reynolds), who misgenders Kelsa when referring to her disparagingly and tells Khal that although he could accept him being gay, him dating a trans girl is something he can’t handle. Although it’s clearly Otis’ loss, and Khal is much better off without a friend with these views, there’s a sense that Otis isn’t beyond becoming more openminded and the character isn’t overly-demonized. More important, is the kindness and understanding for Khal and Kelsa that sometimes comes from unexpected places.
One of the most endearing and captivating things about Anything’s Possible is that its central characters are both rather quirky and a little awkward around each other; the kind of qualities that are usually reserved for supporting characters in romantic movies are allowed to take centre stage. While the disarmingly charismatic Reign and Ali give delicate, natural, and engaging performances, helping to create a relationship that we can believe in and root for.
The film marks an unshowy and assured directing debut for Porter, bringing his own sensibilities as an actor to the screen, focusing on the emotional journey of each scene. Using Leo Birenberg’s beautifully gentle score particularly sparingly during the dialogue sequences, Porter allows the performances room to breathe, giving the film an unhurried pace, while still injecting the movie with a buoyant youthful energy. In addition to the touching romance at the heart of the movie, Anything’s Possible is also a love letter to Porter’s native Pittsburgh. With some stunning aerial shots, a well-located high school campus with river views, Kelsa and Khal’s regular date spot of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and a fun visit to the Andy Warhol Museum—taking in the artist’s work on trans icons Candy Darling and Marsha P Johnson—the City of Bridges makes for an attractive and distinctly atmospheric setting, which Khal is in no hurry to leave.
The movie doesn’t ignore the harsh realities of being a young trans woman of colour in the US today, with Kelsa’s mother fearful of the attention that Internet fame might bring when she discovers that her daughter’s YouTube video has gone viral. We come to this film as the assault of bills targeting trans and other LGBTQ+ youth and their families continues, but what we find is something defiant in its love, joy and hopefulness. A movie where ignorance and hate is mostly tuned out for ninety minutes to envision a future for a young Black trans woman where anything’s possible.
A tender and beautifully heartwarming romance, Porter has created the kind of movie we need to escape in right now, that shows us a less harsh world that’s within our grasp.
By James Kleinmann
Anything’s Possible world premiered at the 40th Anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival and launches globally on July 22nd 2022 exclusively on Prime Video.