Since his breakout role in “Fargo,” John Carroll Lynch has brought depth to projects like “Jackie,” “The Americans,” and “American Horror Story.” Specializing in menacing to sad sack, Lynch has steadily become one of those ubiquitous character actors able to inhabit roles from beat cop to Lyndon B. Johnson. In “Anything,” Lynch imbues small town widower Early Landry with poise and depth, but unfortunately Matt Bomer’s swishy transgender caricature completely distracts from his performance. It’s a double shame, as the story of a widower who moves to Hollywood after a suicide attempt is told with enough warmth and precision that “Anything” might have been a halfway decent movie with a transgender actress in the role.
The movie opens with Early hollowly going about his routines in his small Mississippi town, his grief apparent in every plodding step, even in a crisp white suit and yellow bowtie. As shot by “Moonlight” cinematographer James Laxton, the Southern landscape pops with marigold clapboard and white colonnades. Early is so drained of color by the time he gets in his yellow-tiled bathtub that it’s no surprise he wakes up in the hospital, his sister’s arm wrapped anxiously across his belly. Laurette (Maura Tierney) explains that he can go to a mental health facility or be released into her care, which would mean moving to Los Angeles, and soon Early is tottering around her bourgeois Brentwood home. When she berates him for leaving the house at night for a skinny-dip in the ocean, he starts looking for other accommodations.
He settles on a one-bedroom in Hollywood, in a building and apartment painted the same melancholic shade of yellow that seems to follow Early wherever he goes. In his golden-hued refuge, he is serenaded nightly by a man whose own wife died, a couple that alternates between fighting and banging, and Freda (Bomer), a transgender woman who works the streets at night. When Freda knocks on Early’s door asking for a cup of sugar, she lingers in the doorway before Early clumsily invites her in. He’s clearly taken with her, and she with his Southern gentility and manners. When he lends her money after a brutal mugging, we hope Freda’s interest is genuine.
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They soon connect over their shared loneliness, the metaphor painted as loudly as Freda’s face when, after covering Early’s wrist scar with make-up, she tells him: “You don’t have to do or be anything you don’t wanna be…invent yourself.” She helps him grieve, pushing him to read his wife’s old letters aloud, and he nurses her through withdrawal from whatever she’s been sniffing to get through the night. When he invites Laurette and the family to dinner to meet his new friend, she inexplicably asks, “What kind of a name is Freda, she a prostitute?” The dinner goes over about as well as that line of dialogue, ending with Freda storming out and Laurette asking Early if she has a vagina.
Tierney is excellent in a thankless role, grounding Laurette’s transphobic hate speech with a manic but not irrational fear of losing her brother. “Anything” falls apart with Bomer, though, who not only should know better than to play a transgender woman in 2018, but can’t hold his own against Lynch and Tierney. He periodically mimics Lynch’s Southern accent, though the character never says she’s from the South, and only in Bomer’s delivery does the overly floral dialogue teeter into melodrama. His make-up, noticeably caked on though it is, does nothing to obscure the chiseled jawline and chin dimple that made him a star in macho projects like “White Collar” and “Magic Mike.” The movie throws the community a bone by casting transgender model Roxy Wood in a supporting role, but her presence only serves to highlight Bomer’s obvious costume in comparison.
“Anything” is one more casualty in Hollywood’s long history of ransacking transgender stories, which it does under the guise of paying homage without paying coins to those it claims to represent. Making Freda a sex worker is not only unoriginal, but perpetuates the same old tired tropes about transgender women. Once more for the people in the back, treating anyone’s identity like a costume is offensive and dangerous to an already-marginalized group. If the filmmakers wanted the movie to have a real impact, they should have cast a transgender actress. Instead, “Anything” is just a yellow lily-livered mess.
“Anything” is playing in theaters now.