Film Review: AnythingA decidedly nice love story that may be too nice for its own good.
Southern gent Early (John Carroll Lynch) is so devastated by the sudden death of his wife, he tries to kill himself. His attempt unsuccessful, he moves to L.A. to be nearer his uptight, meddlesomely well-meaning sister, Laurette (Maura Tierney). Of all places, and to Laurette’s dismay (for she, a high-powered development executive, lives in posh Brentwood), Early rents a house in seedy Hollywood. With his gentle manner and Mississippi friendliness, he’s soon charming his jaded neighbors: a sarcastic singer with a warm heart, Brianna (a great Margot Bingham), and a trans woman, Freda (Matt Bomer), whose emotional walls could rival a medieval fortress.
Both Early and Freda are lonely souls aching for a connection. Early helps Freda quit the pills she’s taking, and Freda makes Early laugh. A roadblock in the form of narrow-minded Laurette and Laurette’s disapproval nearly derails their relationship, but in this tale (spoiler here), love conquers all.
First, the good: Much of Freda’s dialogue is snappy (“You look like Andy Griffith’s sad brother”) and her defensive insults bring a much-appreciated sharpness to the proceedings. With such language, it’s evident Anything is adapted from a play. Anything the stage version, also written by the movie’s writer-director, Timothy McNeil, won several of the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle awards in 2008, and starred Mark Ruffalo when it was performed at a benefit for their mutual acting teacher. (Ruffalo encouraged McNeil to adapt the play and serves as one of the film’s exec producers.) McNeil also has an eye for framing, and many of the movie’s earliest scenes set in Crane, Mississippi, are comprised of lovely static shots that appear to box our lonely protagonist in.
But there are moments, too, when the language written for the stage sounds overwritten and stilted onscreen. A woman who makes a dinner party at Laurette’s house uncomfortable by interrupting the vapid conversation to discuss the real pain of her husband’s death sounds, with her non-sequitur lament, like a writerly contrivance—all the more so, in retrospect, since she never reappears. When Freda begins reminiscing about her grandmother’s garden, the affect, the sense of a point about human beings striving to be made, is once again plainly and rather treacly apparent.
Anything is a nice film about love knowing no boundaries of gender. Which is certainly a nice sentiment—one whose very sweetness may be the story’s undoing. When Early responds to Freda’s insistent statement that she wants to do something with her life by pointing out that he hasn’t tried to kill himself again—ergo, “You have already done something”—or when the scummy boyfriend of Brianna admits to Early, unprompted, that he’s simply scared of his feelings, the lines ring more trite than true. Perhaps more of Freda’s biting humor could have helped offset the saccharine moments. Perhaps excising those moments altogether could have gone a long way toward achieving the moving effects they’re reaching for so overtly.
Laurette is prejudiced at first, but her resistance is soon worn down with very little to-do. In this day and cultural climate, a relationship between a man and a trans woman no longer seems so taboo, so controversial or dramatic in and of itself. Very little that’s challenging, because it is ambiguous, about Early and Freda’s relationship is probed here. The result, again, is simply a nice story. So nice as to leave hardly an impression.
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