Gay-male weepies have left a long trail of tears, stretching back to the sobbing, self-loathing queens of The Boys in the Band, released one year after the Stonewall insurrection of 1969, and including high-prestige pictures like Philadelphia (1993) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). The genre, most prominent during the first decade of the AIDS pandemic, has used melodrama to bid for (straight) audience sympathy, often neutering its characters in desperate pleas for tolerance. As social attitudes and state constitutions have changed, the number of these films has dwindled. Homophobia and injustice still exist, of course—as do inept if extremely heartfelt movies about legally sanctioned hate. Travis Fine’s 1979-set Any Day Now, about a part-time drag queen and his D.A. boyfriend fighting for custody of a teenager with Down syndrome, is undeniably filled with good intentions. But we all know where those lead; hell is also where this lesbian might be headed for panning this film.
The shameless heartstring-tugging of Any Day Now begins immediately, as mentally disabled Marco (Isaac Leyva), clutching a blond-haired doll, is seen—mostly from behind—roaming the streets of Los Angeles at night. The 14-year-old has a history of being exiled from or abandoned in the rat hole he shares with his mother, Marianna (Jamie Anne Allman), who, when she’s not tooting coke, is working the streets. Down-the-hall neighbor Rudy (Alan Cumming), a New York transplant and occasional drag performer at a West Hollywood dive called Fabio’s, notices Marco all alone one morning, patiently waiting for his breakfast while, across town, Mom is being taken in by the vice squad. To figure out how to best keep Marco safe from the horrors of Social Services, Rudy calls Paul (Deadwood‘s Garret Dillahunt), the closeted lawyer in the district attorney’s office he had pleasured—both aurally, with his lip-synched rendition of the overlooked disco treasure “Come to Me,” and orally—the night before. (The one upside to Fine’s shoestring budget is that it forced him to be creative with his soundtrack choices.)
After Marianna waives her parental rights—and after Paul makes a second visit to Fabio’s to marvel at Rudy’s choreography in a Carmen Miranda outfit to Honey Cone’s “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show”—Marco has two daddies. He and Rudy move into Paul’s respectable civil servant home, a bulwark of love and stability. The couple, initially posing as cousins, petition for custody, a plan that’s derailed when their same-sex love is discovered, and the Carter-era California judicial system reveals its bigotry.
Although currently 16 states, including California, allow joint gay adoptions (and many others decide legal status on a case-by-case basis), that bigotry still hasn’t been fully expunged from the law books. As a reminder of the flagrant (and lingering) injustices of a not-so-distant past, Any Day Now might have some value as an earnest public service. But it’s hard to take the message seriously when Cumming is left to keen “This is a travesty of justice!” while struggling with a Queens accent and buried (as Dillahunt is also) under a wig fished out of a dumpster after Milk wrapped.
As an out-and-proud actor, Cumming’s presence gives Any Day Now an ostensible stamp of gay authenticity—as does Rufus Wainwright’s original song “Metaphorical Blanket,” played over the closing credits. But Cumming’s character, saddled with the worst dialogue in the film, is an unholy hybrid of Dolly Levi and gay-pride-parade steering committee member. “Trust me, honey, we can all do with a little extra luck in this crazy world,” Rudy says to Marco before mailing off his demo tape to club owners—a superfluous subplot that allows Cumming to do some actual belting, including a maudlin cover of “I Shall Be Released,” a lyric from which gives this film its title. “Here’s your chance to bust open that closet door and do some world-changin’,” he says to Paul before they approach the family court judge (Frances Fisher), disdainful of their “openly homosexual lifestyle.”
Any Day Now is homo history repurposed as courtroom soap opera. Fine, greatly embellishing a script written decades ago by George Arthur Bloom (who based it on a real-life, high-camp Brooklyn neighbor and the mentally challenged kid he looked after), has virtuous aims but horrible storytelling instincts. Straining for “teachable moments,” the film has one noteworthy, unintentional function: to remind us that though LGBT rights are continually evolving, the laws of kitsch remain immutable.