On first glance, there would be a certain “walking on eggshells” approach necessary for discussing “Any Day Now,” which is based on a tragic true story that allows the film a certain dramatic heft. “Any Day Now” touches on the rights of same-sex couples as well as treatment of the mentally disabled, and the natural approach is to address the film with kid gloves, even if these are professional actors playing dress-up-make-believe. Opinions about a film, no matter how well-spoken, tend to carry more weight than actual human compassion, even if it’s manufactured.
That gamble paid off when “Any Day Now” won the Heineken (shudder) Audience Award at this spring’s Tribeca Film Festival. Though a lot of that appeal probably comes from the melodramatic lead performance of Alan Cumming, here playing cross-dressing stage performer Rudy. Rudy barely scrapes by with the rent during the day, clasping a wig onto his already-considerable locks at night as an excitable drag performer, trading gossip with his fellow sisters backstage. Always ready with a one-liner, Rudy’s sass feels practiced, a result of years of hustling, legally or otherwise.
The film awkwardly presents Rudy’s two most life-changing moments only minutes apart, suggesting a bit of the fudging of the actual true story. While performing, he locks eyes with closeted lawyer Paul (Garret Dillahunt), and the two of them feel instant attraction. Paul is very much miles away from his buttoned-down work life, and somewhat lost as a result, too focused on keeping an eye out for trouble. The showier Rudy shares a drink after hours with him, however, and orders the piano player to help him belt out a prerehearsed song about his origins. Always performing, Rudy’s presentation strikes no one as ostentatious or unnecessary, and the shy Paul seems charmed (somewhat -- Dillahunt just can’t sell this).
The rattling of the walls back at Rudy’s house, meanwhile, suggests destiny knocking at his door. His slovenly neighbor lives in squalor, he discovers, blaring rock music while laying waste to her inhibitions with a number of suitors each night. Rudy’s outrage turns to sympathy as he learns that her autistic son Marco also lives with them, and cowers in fear each night as she barks orders at him to circle around the apartment and grant her some privacy. With very little money to his name and eviction looming, Rudy decides to “adopt” the child, illegally taking ownership of the child when his mother is taken to jail, only steps ahead of child services.
With nowhere to go, Rudy heads to Paul’s home (after an ill-advised detour to Paul’s offices that goes predictably awry) and convinces him they should live together and raise the child on their own. Paul’s timid but cheery acceptance of this seems less likely because his character endorses this plan, but because this is the Alan Cumming Show, and Paul can’t help but be charmed by this flamboyant moppet acting fifteen years younger than he really is and the disabled child he has abducted from his home. Because Montage, Paul and Rudy soon become caring parents to Marco as they take the necessary legal steps to gain custody. Though that road is rockier given that they’re a gay couple and this is 1979, lack of period signifiers be damned.
Like another Tribeca hit given a quiet release, last year’s “Puncture,” “Any Day Now” feels the need to take its compelling true story and stack the deck in favor of what we know is the outcome, presenting all obstacles as engineered by sneering, callous villains with disdain for those who would trumpet a more progressive cause. Late in the film, Paul finds himself in court arguing against a lawyer played by veteran sleazebag character actor Gregg Henry. Henry, a wonderfully practiced ham if there ever was one, is talented enough to make his lawyer seem both like a real personality with a life beyond the courtroom (which we never see), but also an openly squeamish homophobe who attempts to play to the judge’s worse prejudices. As written, many of the exchanges seem ugly but plausible, but Henry is just one of many actors in the film (Child Services also comes off as quite nasty) that attempt to provide the broadest possible counterpoint, an elaborate goal given that Cumming is just chewing up all that remaining scenery.
Marco himself is played by an actual disabled performer named Isaac Leyva, and he’s a charming presence that the film leans on for soft close-ups, perhaps a bit too much. The film matches his zen silence against Cumming’s manic energy, and both sadly cancel out Dillahunt’s Paul. Which is unfortunate -- the film pays less attention to the loss of Paul’s job than it does to Rudy’s burgeoning career as a club performer singing sans costumes. It also pays more attention to Cumming’s pipes than it does the inherent tragedy of Marco’s life, which makes you think whether it’s just a coincidence or a subtle marketing tool that the last moments of “Any Day Now” involve the title musically emerging from the mouth of multimedia recording artist Cumming’s mouth. It couldn’t be both, could it? [C-]