Any Day Now – the 1970’s Are Not So Far Away

Are the Kids Alright? Torch Song for a Nasty Past That Lingers On

Any Day Now is a period drama/comedy set in the prehistory of gay rights. In a 1970’s Los Angeles of tight-hugging shirts, bad haircuts, gas guzzlers and three-piece suits (before LA Law), Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt play an improbably matched out/in gay couple fighting to raise a child with Down syndrome whose junkie mother is sent off to prison. No surprise, the courts aren’t a friendly forum.

The Same Prejudices Rally the Right-Wing Base Today

It’s tempting to feel relieved, watching Cumming’s paroxysms of wit honed with pain, listening to a drag queen for whom verisimilitude is a bore. But are these battles really conflicts of the past? This week Michigan legislators voted for a Right to Work law in a state that used to be a union bastion. Not so long ago, voters in Maine (with lots of help and cash from the Catholic Church) killed a gay marriage law (Maine voters reversed that decision last month), just as voters did with assistance from the Mormons at the ballot box in California.

Here’s my review that ran in Screen during the Tribeca Film Festival. I thought that opening before the election might give the film a boost. Opening after the Right to Work victory in Michigan helps turn the period tearjerker (wardrobed by That 70’s Show) into something of a reality check.

Any Day Now

Dir. Travis Fine, USA, 2012, 97 minutes

David D’Arcy in New York

In revisiting a gay couple’s bitter custody fight over a child in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, Any Day Now spices a sentimental family drama into a comedy with the cynical stiletto wit of a drag queen played by Alan Cumming.

A prequel to battles over gay marriage and gay adoption, Travis Fine’s period piece will rely on Cumming as a diva with a tender side to get attention internationally. In the US, the intense gay parentage debate could give the film leverage in an election year. Film festivals will pursue Any Day Now, although its eventual theatrical audience depends on Cumming’s appeal.

The tragic story reminds the audience how anti-gay prejudice operated with impunity not so long ago.  The film opens as a cop holding a gun interrupts two men having sex in a car – flamboyant Rudy (Cumming) and tall handsome Paul (Garret Dillahunt).  Rudy mouths off, but they’re let go when Paul, a local prosecutor, threatens the cop with charges for drawing his weapon.

Action shifts to downtown LA. When Rudy’s noisy junkie/prostitute neighbor is arrested, her son with Down syndrome, Marco, is left alone. Rudy protects him, and calls for help to Paul, who takes them in and pretends that Rudy’s his cousin. When Paul resists flirting with the sexiest secretary in the office and Rudy seems like a boyfriend, Paul is fired. The drama shifts to the courtroom, where the two men fight to keep Marco, and learn how rigid official homophobia is in 1970’s California.

Cumming’s Rudy slashes through the teary tale, inspired by a real-life case, with an uncontrollable filthy mouth that cuts through some of the preachiness in the script co-written by Travis Fine, an airline pilot directing his second feature with Any Day Now.

The script packages heartfelt sentiment in foul wry observations by Cumming that would make John Waters proud. It makes you wonder which meetings of the Mile High Club Fine (who produced with his wife) was attending.  Cumming’s whiny New York accent echoes Dustin Hoffman’s Rico Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. The low-rent digs where penniless Rudy first meets gentle Marco exhume the dark skid-row smarminess of that earlier film.

Rudy is an aspiring singer. Vocal lounge numbers that Cumming performs — with an actor’s voice, rather than a singer’s voice – don’t deliver the punch of Rudy’s bitchy invective, but those scenes recapture the cramped no-budget glam of that corner of LA gay life at the time. Don’t be surprised if someone tries to adapt Any Day Now into a musical.

As Cumming’s strait-laced closeted lawyer partner Paul (who’s outed when he’s fired), Garret Dillahunt is a square-jawed square, with all the unease that a gay man trapped in an official job probably felt back then.  Cumming’s queen character can tend toward the iconic and generic as the audience laughs with him, yet Dillahunt has chilling realistic moments which make you feel the actual discrimination in the air.

The chubby teenager Marco, who lurches between indifferent state custody and two loving protectors, is played with a shy innocence by Isaac Leyva, whose crowd-melting softness argues eloquently against institutionalizing such a person. Chris Mulkey brings a predatory coarseness to the role of LA’s district attorney.

Films on the gaping cracks in LA justice are many – the subject is vast – yet Any Day Now opens a new one. If the prosecutors are the aggressors, the judges are cowards, citing the couple’s suitability for guardianship (in predictably dutiful manner) while denying them custody rights which even then would have been within the law.

Shot mostly in interiors, Any Day Now gets the bad haircuts and the three piece suits of time just right, along with some of the furniture. Minimally furnished courtrooms and the absence of the outdoor LA beauty shots that distinguished Tom Ford’s A Single Man (a period LA gay story with a more refined aesthetic) attest to what must have been the film’s skeleton budget.

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