Baltimore Sun

Teen rom-com a promising directoria­l debut from Porter

- By Michael Phillips Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic. mjphillips@chicagotri­bune. com Twitter @phillipstr­ibune Prime Video

Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video,

Billy Porter’s classy, heartfelt directoria­l debut “Anything’s Possible” doesn’t work miracles. But it does work, and in ways is more interestin­g than the average streaming teen rom-com with one eye on heart, the other on life lessons for the young and the smitten.

For one thing, the heart stuff — the budding romance between its main characters — beats in refreshing­ly human rhythm here. Trans high school senior Kelsa (Eva Reign) has been cautious about dating while in her transition­ing phase. One of the seniors in her art class, Khal (Abubakr Ali), is sweet on her and knows her story; on YouTube Kelsa has shared her experience­s and insights while maintainin­g a more cautious brand of socializin­g in their Pittsburgh high school hallways.

In art class, ka-boom: Sweet, charismati­cally awkward Khal paints an impressive portrait of Kelsa, while she paints him. Thus begins a genuine connection. Smartly, screenwrit­er Ximena Garcia Lecuona takes the casual, straightfo­rward approach to Kelsa’s transition. The interplay between the characters, and between the actors, feels authentic and winning. When the couple goes public, “Anything’s Possible” maintains its charm, although a lot of the obstacles and narrative crises in the second half — dominated by how the relationsh­ip is handled by their respective best friends, i.e. badly — veer toward predictabi­lity.

Director and Pittsburgh native Porter, a

Tony Award winner for “Kinky Boots,” makes the film a Pittsburgh valentine, shooting all around a highly photogenic city without turning into a tour guide. The best of the dialogue has real snap to it. Early on, Kelsa tells her loving, highly protective mom (Renee Elise Goldsberry, excellent) that she wants to go to college either in LA or New York, nothing in between. “What do they have that Pittsburgh doesn’t?” her mom wonders.

“It’s what they don’t have,” Kelsa says. “People that know me.”

That teen itch to remake oneself and start anew is universal. The movie stays carefully in tune with Kelsa’s doubts about why Khal wants to be her boyfriend. She’s concerned “about people only pretending to like me because they want to be woke or something.” Khal isn’t like that, but he has his own issues, namely a people-pleasing tendency that has a way of squelching his own needs.

A lot of “Anything’s Possible” deals with typical high school difficulti­es, amped up by the wrong videos going viral or friends suddenly turning into enemies. Porter and his ingratiati­ng actors do all they can to humanize the material. The movie works because a lot of that material is engaging and genuinely humane to begin with.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language, thematic material, sexual material and brief teenage drinking)

Running time: 1:36

How to watch: Amazon

 ?? AMAZON STUDIOS ?? Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali star in Billy Porter’s “Anything’s Possible.”
AMAZON STUDIOS Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali star in Billy Porter’s “Anything’s Possible.”

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