Anything You Want is certainly the most aptly titled film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Its central premise is not exactly a secret, but as one of the more interesting features of the film is the way it turns from a generic premise to its actual subject, consider this your spoiler alert.
Botto plays Leo, a Spanish lawyer with a wife, child, and healthy masculine disgust at all things homosexual. When his wife dies of a seizure and he can’t bring himself to answer his daughter’s pleas for a surrogate mom, he gradually begins dressing as the deceased mom to help the child cope. Lots of lessons about tolerance and gender roles ensue in a Black Like Me sort of tradition, followed by the inevitable challenges from in-laws, social services, and work friends who just don’t understand that a dad has got to do what a dad has got to do.
If I sound a little flip, it isn’t because the film doesn’t have heart…and to spare. It’s all heart, really. Leo turns to help from his mistress’ former drama instructor, a cross dressing drama queen. Leo tries to explain what he is doing to a concerned school teacher. Leo meets the inevitable gang of homophobic thugs on the streets. None of it is unbelievable, and yet I didn’t believe any of it. It feels constructed to make sociological points rather than organically developed to be about real people.
Audience response, which is always skewed at TIFF, tells me I’m in the minority, though. Mañas and Botto spoke warmly, almost devoutly, about their own daughters, and the director added a pointed comment about how women, having entered the workplace, often have to play the roles of both mother and father. I think the dividing line for this film will be whether the viewer can accept it as allegory or fable. On that level, I do think Anything You Want provides room for the viewer to explore his or her own feelings about taboo subjects. Some may argue that the deck is stacked, and I wouldn’t disagree. I also might add that the ending struck me as more convenient than resolved.
Yet, for all that, I had a hard time dismissing the film. There is real emotional power here, and where there is honest emotion, it can often carry the day over plot holes or improbabilities. For many the film will no doubt make them think of their own children and what they might do for them. For me, I thought a lot about the words that we use and what they mean. How often have we heard people say, “I’ll do anything…”? How often do they (or we) really mean it?