In the age of TikTok, traditional media producers are scrambling to compete for younger audiences, and many are coming up short. An edgy show like “Euphoria” or the sweetly earnest “Sex Education” may be set in the world’s most adult high schools, but their real demographics skew toward Millennials and older Gen Z-ers. Actual teenagers rarely watch anything on a screen bigger than their phones, so it makes sense that the content geared toward them would be, well, somewhat slight. But that’s no reason to sacrifice quality, in fact the opposite will have to be true if we want to get kids back to the movies.
Brimming with heart and not much else, the new teen romance “Anything’s Possible” isn’t likely to create any converts to the unique magic of movies. The feature directorial debut of Emmy-winning “Pose” star Billy Porter, the story follows a transgender high schooler during the early stages of her first relationship with the boy of her dreams. The script by Ximena García Lecuona offers a twist on this age-old tale: The character’s trans-ness is not an impediment to finding love or happiness. Unfortunately, in its valiant effort to avoid cliches, the story falls flat. By focusing on what not to do, there’s just not a lot there.
The drama opens in a high school cafeteria as three teenage girls, Kelsa (Eva Reign), Em (Courtnee Carter), and Chris (Kelly Lamor Wilson) gush over their crushes. Calling on Instagram as the ultimate algorithmic truthteller, they test Em’s theory: “First Insta-story is the person you’re thirstiest for.” When Kelsa pulls up her phone, she sees Khal (Abubakr Ali) throwing up a dorky peace sign in his profile pic. But before she has a chance to tell her friends, Em blurts out the same name; turns out, Khal is her crush, too. Kelsa decides to keep her feelings to herself, but soon gets paired up with Khal in art class. Sparks fly, and the two begin a flirtatious friendship that gradually deepens.
At home, we learn that Khal’s traditional Iranian family is far more concerned about his schoolwork than his social life. With no one to confide in, Khal pens his deepest hopes and fears to the kind internet strangers of Reddit, which he uses as a kind of online diary. We learn that he has a crush on Kelsa, who is trans, and he’s worried about how to ask her out. As the messages of support roll in, Khal’s anonymous advisors come to life, their posts launching into videos of other kids who encourage him to just go for it and stop overthinking.
He finally musters up the courage to tell Kelsa how he feels, bumbling up to her with puppy dog eyes and shoving flowers at her. Upset and embarrassed by the implied rejection, Em runs away in tears. Though Kelsa is worried about her friendship, she doesn’t miss the opportunity to experience joy. This healthy perspective likely comes from her strong relationship with her mom (Renée Elise Goldsberry), her constant and forceful cheerleader throughout the film.
The movie is set in Porter’s hometown of Pittsburgh, and he clearly had fun highlighting certain locations in a city that isn’t often given the cinematic treatment. Though the movie is produced by Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and David Hinojosa, who were behind some of the most daring independent cinema of the last two decades, it has more in common visually with the splashy commercial polish of “Pose.” As a first-time director, it’s natural that Porter stick to his wheelhouse, but then he should have spent more time on the performances. It’s always nice when a production takes a chance on undiscovered talent, but the two young leads could have used a firmer hand from the seasoned actor.
With mainstream trans cinema still in its nascent stages, only time will tell how “Anything’s Possible” will age. Though it’s not one for the books, Kelsa and Khal’s sweet romance opens the possibility for a new story to be told. In witnessing Kelsa allowing herself to be loved, hopefully trans kids who happen upon “Anything’s Possible” will finally be able to see a future for themselves. But they’d have to get off TikTok long enough to find out.
“Anything’s Possible” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.