Timothy McNeil’s Anything surrounds itself in so many ordinary and overcooked Hollywood cliches that by the halfway mark, it threatens to sink into obscurity.
There’s the central idea about a depleted man moving from the deep South to Hollywood in order to drink himself to death. Of course, he moves into a slightly dangerous but mostly anecdotal slum building full of loveless heroin addict musicians and a man whom we hear but never see, crooning songs to his long dead wife whenever he gets drunk enough.
Slowly, this depleted man becomes a sort of father-figure/savior to this Sunset Boulevard broken dreams sect. And, surprisingly, he finds a special relationship with a transgender woman living next door. With the exception of this fairly modern tangent of the story, one can feel the dusty tropes of Hollywood’s past working overtime in McNeil’s script.
But suddenly, something happens and the performances of actors John Carroll Lynch (as Early, the depleted man) and Matt Bomer (as the transgender love interest) bloom and somewhat redeem Anything into a subtle look at how people change and how their environments allow for newfound perspectives to take a chance in life. It’s not a great film, but a good one whose focus is small and naturalistic.
As Early, once-supporting character actor John Carroll Lynch is terrific as a lead. He’s always had that something, almost stealing Frances McDormand’s domestic scenes in Fargo (1996) and coming into his own as suspect Zodiac killer Arthur Leigh Allen in David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). Only featured in one scene, Lynch gives a menacing and less-is-more example of how lumbering size can certainly be a frightening companion to sinister intelligence.
Recently widowed and depressed, Early is asked to move with his sister (Maura Tierney) to L.A. where she can keep an eye on her brother since his recent suicide attempt almost succeeded. Escaping her overbearing judgments and mothering personality, Early rents his own apartment and spends his days sightseeing Hollywood and drinking … all of this timed to carefully designed pop tunes that not only instill a sense of creaky screenwriting but an encroaching distrust of the film being anything organic or fresh.
Things are still rocky when Freda (Matt Bomer) introduces herself to her new neighbor because she needs sugar to make tea. It’s unclear how Early will react, but the two strike up a relationship. Despite the fact Freda works as a hooker, which of course brings about the usual complication of drug use and random muggings, Anything shifts its narrative line from Early wanting to kill himself to Early trying to save the dispirited inhabitants around him. If he finds love in the process, then so be it.
Much of the film’s current buzz lingers not on the borderline ordinariness of the plot or anything technical. Although I always have problems with films that use their title egregiously somewhere in the film (and this one is a humdinger), the real consideration falls on the decision of the filmmakers to use a male actor when portraying a transgender woman. When it’s done right, such as Daniela Vega in Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman (2017) from earlier this year, the dividends are endless.
Although I can honestly say Bomer’s performance isn’t a train wreck, he does falter some towards the beginning of the film, playing Freda like a transplanted figure of Southern-drawl ‘snarkiness’ remade into the California identity he is now by watching other females play this role. Systemic of the film’s inherent weakness, Bomer’s role does resemble something heartfelt by the end, but he also feels designed to hit every cathartic note up to the redemptive finale.
If Anything recovers any of its momentum, it’s due to the performance of Lynch. During the film’s pivotal scene in which he invites his sister and her family to dinner in order to meet Freda, the film achieves a moment of clarity in how each person reacts to the scenario in front of them: some with disdain, some with polite deflection, some with sharp anger. All of the emotions are handled delicately and the film settles into a sharp drama of decisions and reconciliation with the crappy dealings in life. It’s not too late to save the film, but its almost too little.
Anything opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, May 18 at the AMC Grapevine Mills and AMC Mesquite Dine-In 30.