Anything’s possible, even making a groundbreaking film while telling a story that has seemingly been told a hundred other times before: a coming of age teenage rom-com.
First off a huge shoutout for finally getting ourselves a curly haired trans-heroine in feature films. And what a wholesome, powerful and fun trans-heroine at that. Think about it though for a second, other than Pose who are our other curly haired transheroines? Let’s also take a quick second to commend the fundamental. It is also noteworthy that this film has a transgender person playing the role of a trans person. Rather basic, but given all the recent Indian films portraying a trans character, apparently this choice of casting is not so obvious.
Anything’s Possible sets itself apart from even the most amazing-original-gamechanger coming of age/ highschool rom-com film you may have ever seen. But then again, I don’t think that’s what Emmy award winning Billy Porter was going for with his directorial debut. Written by Ximena García Lecuona, Anything’s Possible is the Trans coming-of-age film this planet absolutely never had.
WARNING this is an in-depth review. It ain’t the kind you read before you watch the film. It’s actually more like the one you read while discussing the film, post watching it. It took me longer to write this than watching the film itself. So yes SPOILERS ALL THE WAY! It is also the kind of review that hopefully will get some folks who had decided they just wouldn’t watch it to maybe now watch it.
Alice Júnior (2019) is the only other film I have come across in all my research of films about Transgender characters or stories that is similar in plot to Anything’s possible. And although it is on Netflix, because it is a Brazilian film, it has not received that much attention. Besides this, all in all, Alice Júnior is not a huge deal. I mean it is great in that it’s a rare, feel-good trans story, it avoids the usual tropes we find when cisgender folks tell our stories. But the acting, directing and screenplay stick far too close to the conventional rom-com feels for the film to go beyond a very small audience. That being said the film will always be seen as a precursor to Anything’s Possible.
Like Alice Júnior, Billy Porter’s film is also a film with a transgender student as the protagonist. Side note: Although Kelsa is clearly the protagonist of the film, on googling, I found a the little blurb that said a lot about where we are at in a larger context: A high school student with a crush summons the courage to ask a transsexual teen out on a date, knowing the drama it could cause.
Kelsa is played by Eva Reign. Yes, it is a trans story, in that quite a few of the things that happened would not have occurred if she were a cisgender person. BUT this is STILL an almost-perfect feel-good coming-of-age story. Even if we reduce the film to only being compared to its peers in the same genre (with non-trans character), it will check out. Although it might be considered a rather basic film in its category.
BUT that might just be the intention here. Anything’s Possible, even a trans woman having an experience in high school that is commonplace for ciswomen is POSSIBLE! And at the same time it is still a daring new concept for film culture.
Which is also why this film won’t necessarily do all that well with a cis-het audience, who might be unaware as to why this is groundbreaking. Stories celebrating queer joy are just starting to take focus, and those celebrating trans joy seem still too unrealistic to studio executives, it seems. It may also be why this film has only 5/10 stars on IMDb but 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s the same reason why this review in Times of India on Anything’s Possible by a cisgender writer Archika Khurana @archikak who gave the film 3 out of 5 stars reads, “Billy Porter’s Trans teen romance is unique, but it suffers from sloppy writing”. The reason that Archika finds it unique, mind you, is because: “The idea that things can work out in a relationship if there is acceptance and willingness to do so” tells you a whole lot more about her ideas on relationships, in my opinion. She goes on to say, “The characters, on the other hand, are not very well-developed. For instance, one immediately falls in love with Eva Reigns’ upbeat Kelsa who dazzles in every frame. However, the story leaves us wanting to know more about her life, which could have given the narrative more gravitas.” The backstory, what happened in childhood? Were you abused? How was it coming out? Did your family accept you? Were you depressed? You know the usual things required in developing a character. Archika, I would ask that you apply the law of averages to this character as well.
This is precisely why this film may work better for queer/trans folks tired of the cliched tropes that cisgender folk seem obsessed with portraying us as. Watch the documentary Disclosure to understand this if you don’t already.
To a queer person, the very fact that Kelsa is upbeat and dazzling everyone in every frame is a well-developed character. There is a reason she is like that, but not all of her friends are. She is an out and proud trans teenager, wearing her identity on her sleeve but not allowing it to define her. I felt like I related to that aspect of Jules in Euphoria as well and I was entirely able to relate to that layered portrayal of Kelsa in this film.
If you knew where to look you would see the immense character development in even the portrayal of her voice. This is such an important portrayal within the trans community. Most folks who understand the situation around representation and the importance of positive representation know about the issue of voice portrayal of trans folks in films.
In reality, trans folks have voices all over the spectrum. Folks who never intentionally work on their voice to lower or higher the base pitch, to folks who never needed to alter the pitch because it worked for their gender expression, to folks who intentionally transition their voices to match their gender expression. There are transwomen who use high pitches and those that use low pitches.
What’s also important to remember is that the same is true for cisgender women as well. Like Eva puts it eloquently in her lovely voice, “When a cis woman has a strong, resonant voice, people love that fullness. Just look at Viola Davis, Sandra Bullock, Oprah, even Meryl Streep. We can list them for days. But when it comes to the girls, we’re supposed to sound like a Disney princess who just took in a bunch of helium.” She is saying this about with teenaged cis-girl portrayals as well.
But when it comes to transfemme or transwomen portrayal in cinema we are either portrayed with overly masculine voices to drive home the fact that we are running on testosterone; quite a homophobic portrayal, imo. Or with a hyper feminine conformist white girl voice.
I noticed and made a note to talk about her voice pretty much 10 minutes into the film. I absolutely love that her voice is her own. Unlike Jules, a whole generation of trans-women transitioning on youtube and reddit, and also to an extent me – she doesn’t sound like @iamzheanna ‘s heat from fire, fire from heat!
She speaks in luxe textures of butter and velvet, summoning both the giddy sonics of children at play and the sage aura of wise elder women. (Rendy Jones) That reminded me a bit of the powerful tones that @lavernecox speaks in. That seems to be her default, the more velvety voice. And when Kelsa gets sassy or is reading someone to filth, she has a bit of that Nikita Dragun drawl, not necessarily a Rupaul’s Drag race drawl either.
We know that this was something that they considered in casting from this excerpt from an interview she gave; Sitting down with her director for real for the first time … the first thing he said to her … “Eva, your voice is powerful. It’s strong, and it’s unique. I hope you don’t feel that you have to alter it at all.”
And of course Kelsa is a content creator. She is trans + Gen Z
Ok sorry, of course I don’t mean that all trans gen zees are content creators. But definetly younger queers find community a whole lot more easier online than they may offline. For the vast majority of queer folks in India, their online queer communities are way larger than those IRL. With some of them located in different states too.
So it seems realistic that our transheroine is creating Youtube content about her transition like the trans writer of this article. It’s not that Kelsa does this for any visibility or fame. She doesn’t seem to have too many subscribers either.
“Thats like my trans stuff (online videos); its different in real life. In real life I just want to be Kelsa.”
But like countless transfolk she seems to do it, because it’s a way of exploring her identity and accepting herself. It’s a way of controlling your representation and your own narrative. You often hear trans folks say that it’s validating and affirming.
The Gen Z teenage life is marvelously baked into the entire film. Khal, who eventually asks our girl out, is equally engaged on reddit. Where he dishes seemingly sound relationship advice, as an expert he clearly isn’t. The integration of technology is almost seamless and all of this makes a whole lot of sense given that it started out with a Reddit post that I saw. Basically, it was this kid saying that he liked a trans girl, didn’t know what to do, didn’t want to be insensitive, didn’t want to be judged.
The Internet responded with, “Don’t be stupid. Ask her out.” Obviously like, “Who cares?” Very short post, but that inspired me immediately. Being at that point in my life, I was desperately looking for stories where trans people were loved, were happy, successful in life, and satisfied…
There was immediate inspiration — “I’ve got to write this.” – Ximena García Lecuona
The favorite animal analogy
At the start of the film our delightful, aspiring-zoologist Kelsa tells us her favorite animal is the cuttlefish. I exclaimed out loud, of course! Cuttlefish are called chameleons of the sea because of their split-second color and shape shifts. My favorite creature to associate with is the Monarch butterfly (cliche trans things I’m aware) because of its grand metamorphosis.
Her favorite animal is the cuttlefish, but when he asks her out towards the end of the film, she says she doesn’t know. This is everything! We are in fact more like this than we care to admit. We like to think in essentialist terms of having one favorite animal all our lives, one favorite color all our lives. But these ideas of having these fixed preferences and identities does not really stand true. We may change through the course of our lives. Certain aspects of us may change. From favorite animal, to gender and sexuality. None of it is as set in stone as essentialists would have you believe.
Earlier her favorite animal was a cuttlefish. Kelsa was a young confident trans woman getting through high school at the time. The ability to blend in with everyone else and not be singled out as trans was what she seemed to prioritise above all else through this association as well.
A lot of trans women will relate to this, the attempt to pass. The idea of trying to be invisible in their transgender identity. And there is nothing wrong with that, if that is your choice. But by the end of the film, Kelsa had come to realise that while she did not want to centre her identity around being transgender, she also could not run away from the fact that she is transgender, and that the world may choose to remind her of this at various times.
The analogy also seems like a statement to the transmedicalist approach to the transgender experience. An approach that seems to say that the best thing trans folks can do is blend into the binary and hope no one gets offended.
The struggle to be seen more than your label
“More than what I need to survive in this world, I want to find out how to thrive.”
“I’m worried about people only pretending to like me because they wanna be woke or something”
“You know what I hate? When people say I’m brave. You’re transitioning so young, OMG, like do you get bullied?”
These quotes by Kelsa illustrate the struggle so many trans folks face. On the one hand she can just survive and blend in, but she wouldn’t be able to thrive. To thrive, would mean risking visibility which also brings attention to one’s transgender identity and then stand the risk of being reduced to that identity.
The constant worry about the real reason that folks are friends with you. Do they like you for who you are, or only because of who they see you as. Namely defined by your transgender identity again. An emotional predicament I can relate to because it is just very common in our woke squad world.
Their heartstopping romance
Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali’s on-screen chemistry is everything I needed as a transgirl hoping for love! The way it made me feel is similar to the wholesome possibilities of the Hearstopper series’ romance.
Seeing them go on dates, and walk around Pittsburgh made me feel elated. Their montages through Pittsburgh, celebrating first love, made me effervescent with trans-joy! The Billy Porter spray paint cameo, a bonus in the scene.
Also WOW that was one of the most amazing teenage first kisses ever in a film!
Kelsa went, “Why are we so awkward?” and then “wait you wanna make out?” before they had their incredible first kiss. Kelsa’s performance of femininity here is informed by the last two decades, she isn’t demure, submissive or a one-dimensional trans portrayal, that are usually on offer. She reaches out to hold his hand when he doesn’t. She initiates the kiss and has so many other nuances in her performances.
OMGORG! What a perfect ending to their relationship arc! Growing up, I watched a whole bunch of teenage love stories and I can’t recall a single one where they just found the ability to enjoy what they had already had together over the year/ summer and move the f on. Acknowledge their end and move on seemingly happy. Not broken humans driven to depression and alcoholism. Because yes there is love, but love is not EVERYTHING. And the message of our hyper-romantic, compulsorily monogamous culture that love is this all powerful force, for which we abandon all our other pursuits and simply focus on keeping the flame of said love alive, is a total FARCE. We are way past Boomer and Millenial attempts at keeping that myth alive for me to say more on this.
Just all in all a wholesome love story!
Law of averages
OMG I love this application of the Law of Averages! It is brilliant, it is a succinct way to encapsulate something I usually address in Diversity and inclusion training.
How I usually frame it is, “Don’t say, ask or do anything to a transwoman you wouldn’t say, ask or do to cisgender women.” In the film Kelsa uses this to remind her mother that she can only ask or expect that of Kelsa that she would of an average daughter. The whole law of averages concept is a lovely way to describe the same. I love it and will now use it 😀
We should also note that while this is a valid line of thinking and does help us to frame sensitive and accepting interactions, it is not always applicable. In the film also there are situations where the law of averages no longer applies, although Kelsa might want it to.
For example the average teenaged girl’s mother would probably never get called to the principal’s office over being asked to use a separate washroom from other girls in that school.
Trans identity is a part of the character and not the Plot
Love that the fact that she is trans is not the conflict point of the story. That is just a part of her character. We are beyond disclosure. The actual conflict of this teen-trans-rom-com is not really an exclusively trans issue and I love it for that. The conflict here is arising from feminine rivalry. As it does countless other times, both on and off film.
It is not that Billy Porter has whitewashed the world of this film off trans issues. They are present, either spoken about, or given a nod, like in the case of Kelsa’s father’s abandonment of their family due to Kelsa’s transition or the change of Kelsa’s school washroom. But these issues are not the focus of this film. This is not a trans film told from the cis-het point of view. Wherein like in the case of the film Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, the fact that Maanvi is trans is literally the plot of the film.
“She’s a conniving bitch” – said by Kelsa’s best friend, who is hurt that Khal likes Kelsa and not her.
It’s really the femme rivalry that causes conflict between these two besties. Not something we haven’t seen before in countless other films and tales. But what’s interesting to observe is how the stale old friends fighting over love interest trope gets conflated into a trans issue. Like it often does in real life.
“When people look at me all they see is gender.” – Kelsa
Most of the conflict points in this film weren’t trans issues, in and of itself tbh. They were all run-of-the-mill high school teen rom com plot points. But everyone around the trans character quickly makes everything into a trans issue. Which was a lovely way of showcasing the repercussions of the woke mob.
The boyfriend, the ex best friend, the other friends and even the mother they all make it about her being transgender. They make all these issues about gender. Superbly holding up a mirror to how stuff plays out in the lives of transfolks off screen. In this portrayal the film is hyper realistic about the experiences of transwomen, in that often issues in our lives are made about our trans identity because that is how folks see us, solely through the lens of our trans identity and what that means to them.
I love when Kelsa in the confrontation part of the film loses her shit and does as most queens who are feeling vulnerable and have had it with people do. She read everyone from her mom to her boyfriend to filth and how! Pushing them all away, to gain the semblance of control over the situation that had been created by everyone else’s ideas of how she should be.
The film was originally titled What if? but I’m super glad it’s called Anything’s Possible in its final form. Because honestly it does inspire some of that hope, as only good films that reach inside me do. The hope that Anything’s Possible for me as well.
Like Ximena García Lecuona said when asked about the central message of the film; You can be trans and be loved profoundly, and you can live an amazing life. It even gives you a sensibility that makes life more enjoyable, is what I’ve learned. That’s what I want to impart to young trans girls, especially, but also anybody who doesn’t quite fit the mold, or feels a little different — that joy is around the corner, that you’re going to be loved and be happy.