Any Day Now” sounds like Lifetime movie-of-the-week melodramatic hokum: a couple fight to adopt a child after it is abandoned by its drug-addicted mother. But in Travis Fine’s decent and occasionally moving film, there’s more to this set-up. The couple is a drag queen and a closeted attorney; the child has Down syndrome, and the setting is West Hollywood of the late 1970s.
Veteran actor Alan Cumming plays Rudy, who we first see glammed up and lip sync’ing disco hits alongside two other drag queens on stage in a gay bar. Watching him from the bar is polyester-suited Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a district attorney just starting to find his identity. After a sexual dalliance, it’s love at first sight for Rudy and Paul. Meanwhile, Rudy winds up looking after his neighbor’s child after the cops take the mother away for drug use and fourteen-year-old Marco (Isaac Leyva) wanders away from Family Services custody and finds his way home.
Rudy doesn’t question his parental instinct; it’s just there along with his feisty Brooklyn accented temperament. Paul, whose wife and kids have left him with an empty suburban home and an heart yearning for family, feels the same, and so a loving makeshift family is born.
The first half of the film creates the family. Paul, however, remains in the closet, presenting Rudy as his cousin. At the midpoint of the film, all this becomes unraveled as Paul’s boss (Chris Mulkey) overhears the couple bickering, puts two and two together, and soon Paul has any chance of lost career advancement. Then Rudy watches in horror as Marco is taken away.
The second half follows the couple as they attempt to win back custody of Marco through a series of court hearings where Rudy’s lifestyle is put on trial more than their qualifications as parents.
The parallels to today are obvious, and apart from the smoky cinematography, garish set design, and period outfits, a lot of the debate could still be taking place in the more conservative areas of the country. It’s much easier now for gay couples to adopt, but most victories have been very recent. The film’s title comes from The Band’s classic “I Shall Be Released” that Mr. Cumming belts out near the end of the movie. It turns out the lip-sync routine pays the bills, but what he really wants to do is sing.
Despite the “based on a true story” angle of its marketing, “Any Day Now” is far from the source material — a story of a drag queen in New York who looked after a child — and so the script comes laden with two-dimensional characters. The homophobes are obvious from the beginning; the prosecuting lawyer seems disgusted, more a sports coach that a lawyer. The score pours on the treacle when it doesn’t need to.
Thankfully, Mr. Cumming and Mr. Dillahunt fill out their characters with real depth. Mr. Cumming, in particular, shows both feminine and masculine sides of Rudy, and he’s always watchable. It’s a great performance, and as gay rights has long been one of the actor’s political issues, his concern shines through. It’s just a shame that he has to go up against such cartoonish bad guys when the unjust nature of the law does just fine by itself as an obstacle. And the ending with either break your heart or feel manipulative. I’m tending toward the latter.
‘Any Day Now’
* * *
Starring:Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use
Playing at: Plaza de Oro