The warm vision of love that Timothy McNeil offers in his debut film is encapsulated in a scene when two suffering people expose their physical scars – and then cover them with concealer. Freda (Matt Bomer) tries to shake Early (John Carroll Lynch) from a drunken stupor with an emphatic pep talk, telling him that no one needs to be defined by slashes on wrists or the despair that prompted the suicide attempt.
It’s a moment of empathy and acceptance that also reveals something key about Freda: She regards her identity as a cloak, a protective persona to shroud a traumatic past. Portraying a trans woman as masquerading rather than revealing her inner self feeds into destructive stereotypes (as does making her a sex worker), but Freda isn’t a malicious characterization, just a shortsighted one.
The overall tone of Anything is that of tender magnanimity. McNeil’s adaptation of his play (named best of 2008 by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle) seeks to put everyone in the best possible light, a point emphasized by cinematographer James Laxton’s exquisite widescreen images, which make Los Angeles look as rosy as Early’s Mississippi hometown, with its inviting, well-ordered charm.
McNeil depicts a cramped Hollywood courtyard apartment complex as a misfit haven, where residents reluctantly welcome straight-laced Early, shattered by his wife’s sudden death. Lynch’s exchanges with Maura Tierney (as Early’s prickly sister) showcase his calm strength and heart-shattering fragility. He’s the ideal foil for a volatile Bomer, who expresses Freda’s self-protective hesitancy as pointed hostility. Early absorbs Freda’s pain into his own, and McNeil builds a delicate idyll from their defiant embrace of unexpected second chances.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on May 11, 2018 by Paladin
First published in The Village Voice, 2018.