Garret Dillahunt, left, and Alan Cumming in a scene from, "Any Day… (Music Box Films )
I've gotten so used to seeing Alan Cumming as high-end attorney Eli Gold, fighting cerebral battles for a compromised politician on CBS' "The Good Wife," that he's almost unrecognizable as the vamping drag queen in "Any Day Now."
Cumming's chameleon quality serves him well in this intimate family drama. It centers on rough-around-the-edges Rudy, who barely covers the rent performing in a 1970s-era gay bar and finds himself unexpectedly in love and in a custody battle over a special-needs child. The role will doubtless stand alongside Cumming's best.
Directed by Travis Fine and inspired by one of those heart-wrenching true stories, the film's straight-talking sensibility helps it sidestep the sentimentality that might have been its undoing. The screenplay was initially written by George Arthur Bloom some 20 years ago and recently reshaped by Fine. In the process, "Any Day Now" has become a more complex tangle of emotional and legal issues and the setting has shifted from Brooklyn to West Hollywood, when it was still an unincorporated parcel of Los Angeles County that the gay community was beginning to call home.
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The 1970s are, in a sense, a central character in the social clash to come. The production design by Elizabeth Garner, costumes by Samantha Kuester and the shooting by cinematographer Rachel Morrison evoke the time in careful detail. But the film's real strength, and its narrative spine, is in the way it nails the '70s' unsettled attitudes about homosexuality.
The tone is set not so much by Rudy, whom we meet on stage, comfortably unconflicted and dressed to the nines, but in Paul (Garret Dillahunt). He's a tall drink of water sitting at the bar — more uncomfortable in his own skin than the slightly too-tight suit. Newly divorced and newly hired as an assistant district attorney, Paul is closeted and spends his days deflecting a secretary's attention and pressure to date from his boss.
One night in the club where Rudy sings changes everything. Looks pass between the men and in short order they are having one of those post-coital talks. There is such pragmatism in Rudy's "'So are you married?" question that you know where the film is coming from and the tone it will take in getting to its destination.
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The twist in "Any Day Now" is the kind of love story it quickly becomes. Marco (Isaac Leyva), a Down's syndrome teen, is there from the opening frames, walking down a street clutching a battered doll. He doesn't seem a major factor until his drug-addicted mom lands in jail and Rudy, who lives in the same apartment house, takes him in. The crux of the story immediately shifts from Paul and Rudy's developing relationship to issues of parenthood and what makes a family.
The idea of a gay couple trying to adopt any child, even a special-needs child, was very much a hot-button topic in the '70s. But in watching the issues debated in court, the film doesn't feel like that much of a period piece given gay adoption's still-cloudy legal standing in many states.
The real question posed is whether homophobia will trump the needs of an unwanted child. Although you can probably guess the answer, Fine manages to maintain the suspense. The film is helped by not making the opposing side's characters into complete monsters. If anything, the hardest to take are the judges who are moved by Marco's plight but fearful of bucking convention.
Ultimately, "Any Day Now" is a morality tale, and unlike a fairy tale, no happy ending is guaranteed. Cumming is the linchpin, and the actor does an exceptional job of moving across the vast galaxy of universal emotions about partners and parenthood. He takes us to the heart of the matter in ways that matter most.
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