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ANYTHING (2018) review

May 17, 2018

anythingposter

 

written by: Timothy McNeil
produced by: Micah Hauptman, Ofrit Peres and Louise Runge
directed by: Timothy McNeil
rated: R (for language throughout, sexual references and some drug material)
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: May 11, 2018 (LA/NY) & May 18-24, 2018 (Facets Cinémathèque, Chicago, IL)

 

Last year, veteran character actor John Carroll Lynch made his directorial debut with “Lucky” a poignant film which revolved around the late great Harry Dean Stanton, portraying one of many characters on the fringe of society. Now, there’s “Anything” another poignant film revolving around a character played by Lynch, written and directed by Timothy McNeil, which also focuses on people who would otherwise generally go overlooked. It’s a welcome chance to see Lynch shine in a lead role, especially in a love story that’s far from typical, as McNeil does his best to veer from predictability, maintaining a welcome warmth and tenderness with a needed understanding of broken people. “Anything” knows what its tackling and thankfully relies on honest portrayals rather than inserting unnecessary laughs to ease around difficult or challenging subject manner. 

When he suddenly finds himself a widower after over twenty years of marriage, Mississippi insurance man Early Landry (Lynch) is left gutted and empty. After his failed suicide attempt, his sister Laurette (Maura Tierney) receives a call and flies in from Los Angeles to be by Early’s side. Since she isn’t leaving Early in an inpatient facility, the controlling Laurette offers to have her brother come live with her and her family, including husband Ted (Christopher Thornton, “Vice Principals”) and teen son Jack (Tanner Buchanan, “Cobra Kai”) back on the West coast. It takes some time for the quiet and well-mannered Early to get used to crowded L.A. freeways as well as the environmental change of beaches and canyons, not to mention the stress and tension of  being added to a family he barely knows.

 

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Knowing that his assimilation to whatever this new life of his requires some space and independence, Early moves into an apartment smack dab in the middle of Hollywood. It’s not the ideal location one would point a Southern gentleman to – which is what we see in Laurette’s response – but there’s something that draws Early there and he’s set on making it work. Indeed, his kind and patient demeanor is foreign to the typical unstable, self-destructive locals who become his neighbors. They’re certainly not used to someone approaching them simply just to greet them or introduce themselves and Early probably isn’t used to getting sarcastic or cynical responses to his polite interactions which come from a place of true empathy.

Empathy and acceptance are exactly what the people Early finds himself around need, something the grief-stricken man can relate to and is keen to offer. Gradually, there’s a hesitant albeit special chemistry that Early develops with his next door neighbor, Freda Von Rhenburg (Matt Bomer Walking Out“), a defensive yet forward transgender prostitute searching for respect, peace and stability in her life. On the outside, the two are definitely an unlikely pair as friends, but the more they circle around each other (and Freda’s insecurities and fears are lowered) the more she feels accepted by Early’s constant understanding and a soulful connection is soon made. Obviously, their relationship is a big challenge for the outwardly disapproving Laurette, who thinks her brother is nuts, which is one of many trials Early and Freda will encounter as they try to figure out what it is they are navigating.

There is quite a bit of navigating in order for “Anything” to work and while McNeil succeeds in offering authentic characters in a story that touches on grief and loss, there is still the elephant in the room. And that is whether or not the romantic development between a middle-aged Lynch and a transgender Bomer is convincing and natural. That’s important because if it doesn’t feel that way, then it could come across as comical and their friendship (and eventual courtship) will pull viewers out of the movie. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here and thanks to McNeil’s writing and the nuanced performances from Lynch and Bomer, it all works and actually develops into something quite poignant.

 

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McNeil has had plenty of time to ensure the screenplay has the right tone since the story started out as something he wrote for the stage and performed with his friend, Mark Ruffalo (who serves as an executive producer here) at the Elephant Theater Company in Los Angeles. While watching the movie, it never occurred to me that “Anything” could be a play, yet upon learning it was it makes sense considering how character-driven the story is. What McNeil is able to do in on-screen is broaden the environment and atmosphere since the story can go breathe beyond a stage. The Hollywood setting is featured prominently as a place that Early is exploring and getting used to (at times it’s a bit too fish-out-of-water) as he gradually finds a new niche in life.

Although the setting of “Anything” almost serves as another character, the film spends more time with Early getting to know his neighbors than it does his neighborhood and it’s definitely better for it. The moments of interaction between Lynch and his neighbors are some of the best character bits and that’s because the actor really nails Early’s earnestness and kindness. He is a man free of airs, deceptions or cynicism, but he also won’t be taken for a fool. He knows when he’s being made fun of, but his responses are genuine, which is unexpected. The character of Early could’ve easily been written as a simpleton like Forrest Gump -there’s even a line from Early that strongly resembles the “I do know what love is” that Hanks’ Gump delivers – but Lynch’s portrayal manages to avoid such stereotypical characterization by exuding a welcome and needed purity and honesty.

As for Bomer, I’m sure the reason he was cast as a transgender woman is because he’s a known actor, but seeing him essentially dress drag still kind of has a ripcord effect, to be honest. And that’s too bad, since his performance is mostly quite good. However, I’m just not sure why Freda adopts a Southern accent in certain scenes. Does she usually adapt the accents of those around her? It’s hard to say, since we don’t really get to know her that well. Does Bomer look the part? I guess, but it’s a look that’s reminiscent of “To Wong Fu” moreso than the recent “A Fantastic Woman”, if you know what I mean. That being said, I do appreciate the wounded defensiveness and tenderness that Bomer brings to the role, I just wish Freda wasn’t written as a prostitute, since it’s cliche to the point that it’s borderline lazy.

Still, Lynch and Bomer wind up having a generally appealing and noticeable chemistry, even if it is strange – and maybe it is strange, since it’s definitely something different for Early. He may not know what to do with his feelings, but it does gradually feel like the pair wind up filling in the empty spaces that are left due to loneliness and other emotional scar tissue.

The relationship Early is exploring certainly does a number on his sister though and I wound up appreciating the raw response we get from Tierney’s Laurrette in the film’s third act. Out of fear and confusion, she verbally lashes out when she and her family are guests at Early’s apartment, in an effort to introduce Freda to his family.  She just can’t take her brother’s situation seriously and erupts into frustrating laughter, asking Early if Freda has a vagina. It’s hurtful and disrespectful, leaving Early mortified and hitting Freda with a response she’s used to receiving.

“Anything” ultimately works as a vehicle for the emotionally lost and disregarded. Despite some misgivings about Bomer’s casting and details about his character, the cast definitely elevates the material and McNeil manages to cap off the film with a compassionate and potent ending between Lynch and Bomer that’s kind of perfect.

“Anything” may resonate with viewers, especially those who’ve experienced loss and have tried to be there for family members who’ve experienced loss. If you’re aware of the synopsis going in, you’ll come to “Anything” with nothing more than curiosity, but you’ll wind up leaving with something to contemplate.

 

anythingsibs

RATING: ***

 

 

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