Love, companionship, healing and deliverance often come from unexpected places, but in movies, it’s far too easy for out-of-the-blue twists of fate to feel creakily contrived. That fact is born out by “Anything,” a romance between a recent widower and a transgender woman that, at nearly every turn, operates in schematic fashion. Though the film’s heart is in the right place, writer Timothy McNeil’s directorial debut (an adaptation of his play) hits so many familiar notes that it undercuts its compassionate lead performances, in the process rendering it merely a superficial tale of unlikely amour.
The casting of Matt Bomer as Freda Von Rhenburg, a Hollywood transgender sex worker, was greeted last year with criticism from some online quarters for being insensitive (if not worse). As it turns out, however, the most problematic thing about the character ultimately has far less to do with Bomer’s sincere turn than with McNeil’s treatment of her as a colorful plot device. Bestowing her with flamboyantly suggestive (and profane) dialogue, much of it punctuated by a closing “bitch,” the filmmaker has a persistent habit of going too far in underlining Freda’s sassy, cutting, larger-than-life personality, which comes at the expense of developing her in three dimensions.
Sporting long black hair and sharp fingernails, and dressed in clingy dresses and high heels, Bomer embodies Freda with as much empathy as the material will allow. Yet too frequently, the character is relegated to being merely the outrageous vehicle by which the film’s protagonist overcomes his misery — a remove that negates any serious consideration of her traumatic backstory, her current situation as a streetwalker, or her complex emotions as an outsider.
“Anything” is first and foremost concerned with Early Landry (John Carroll Lynch), a Mississippi insurance man who responds to his wife’s tragic death by slitting his wrists. When that suicide attempt fails, he’s brought to Los Angeles by his overbearing movie-exec sister Laurette (Maura Tierney). Disinterested in being babied to death by his sibling, Early rents an apartment in a dingy Hollywood building populated by a mailman who’s only heard crooning drunkenly about his own deceased wife; unhappy junky couple Briana (Margot Bingham) and David (Micah Hauptmann); and across-the-way neighbor Freda. A fish out of water in this derelict urban environment, Early spends most of his days and nights drinking his cares away — at least, until Freda enters the picture (looking to borrow some “sucre”), and the 55-year-old man discovers that he can’t get her out of his head.
Their relationship involves confronting their kindred loneliness and sorrow, combatting their substance abuse problems, and grappling with the unspoken but ever-present confusion and unease that naturally stems from the fact that Freda is a transgender woman and Early is a middle-aged country bumpkin. In their gradual courtship, McNeil is careful to never reduce either Early or Freda to mere cartoons. Alas, by crafting his narrative in formulaic terms, he nonetheless manages to make them seem less like genuine human beings than stolid archetypes, a situation exacerbated by a predictable third act marked by an awkward dinner that throws the story’s happily-ever-after into (unconvincing) doubt.
While James Laxton’s competent lensing is never intrusive, the same can’t be said of the soundtrack’s acoustic ballads, which are brimming with on-the-nose lyrics about love and death. Fortunately, they don’t fully distract from the always captivating Lynch, whose earnest embodiment of grief-stricken Early manages to intermittently compensate for the film’s indie-checklist construction.