Exposing Seventies homophobia against gay parents and with a great performance from Alan Cummings, Travis Fine’s Any Day Now is a very modern tearjerker.
Flags Of Our Fathers by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Only finally decriminalised in all of the United States in 2003, gay rights take centre-stage in Travis Fine’s Any Day Now, set in a time when homophobia was institutionalised and everywhere. But the Seventies-set film, which ends with Alan Cummings belting out a bitter rendition of Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released – the emotional climax to Any Day Now‘s custodial battle, goes beyond easy binary divisions of gay and straight, male and female, black and white. For in essence, it’s simply the story of a parent whose child is taken away from them and their fight for equality and justice. But nevertheless a moving retelling of a real-life story, of a bitter law suit which puts discrimination in the dock.
Rudy (Alan Cumming) is the star performer of a cabaret drag queen trio, lip-synching in a gay club. Paul (Garret Dillahunt) is a divorced (and closeted) lawyer from Washington in the DA’s office making his first foray into West Hollywood’s gay scene. And after some car-park capers, they exchange numbers. Barely able to make the rent, Rudy returns to his downmarket apartment where he spots his 14-year-old neighbour Marco (Isaac Leyva) left abandoned by his junkie, street-walking mother. When she’s arrested for vice, Rudy takes the Down syndrome boy under his wing, calling Paul’s straight-laced office to ask the lawyer for advice. And when Marco is taken by social services, the pair request temporary custody from his mother, which – glad to be rid of her maternal responsibility – they are legally granted. And they live a summer of bliss until Paul’s roughhousing boss becomes suspicious and shops them to family services.
Accused of dressing up in women’s clothes and wearing make-up in front of the boy, as well as kissing, it’s the men’s sexual orientation which is on trial, suddenly rendered unfit parents despite the loving and safe environment they create for Marco, with only occasional doughnuts and nightly bedtime stories. The motivation for Paul’s ex-boss’s stab in the back is never clear – perhaps revenge for a perceived personal betrayal of their basketball-court buddyness or a symbol of the state’s deep-rooted patriarchal horror towards difference. But it’s a universal hate, the prosecution hanging its case on Marco’s favourite toy (a girl’s plastic doll) which of course, has nothing to do with Rudy and Paul. And with Marco’s incarcerated mother paroled two years early and persuaded into reasserting her maternal rights, Rudy and Paul are stitched up royally, the courts seizing the opportunity to condemn their “unnatural” influence over the boy without a second thought for the mentally handicapped teenager who ends up dying under a bridge trying to find his way back to Rudy and Paul.
Apart from the legal battle over state discrimination, Any Day Now is also a touching portrait of a relationship. Rudy may get the punchy songs and the tender moments with Marco, but Any Day Now is in fact largely Paul’s story; from tentative car-park fellatio, he’s gradually challenged to come right out of the closet – to invite Rudy and Marco to move in with him and to declare himself publicly in court, inadvertently becoming a posterboy for gay rights. It’s a great performance by Garett Dillahunt – all buttoned-up emotion and tearful court-side speeches. And from Alan Cummings too, who combines drag queen lip-synching with real emotion and hard-won self-restraint. But above all, Any Day Now is the portrait of a new kind of family, evoked through super-8 family album – through Halloween, Christmas and birthdays – different but happy.
Fighting against injustice with their black lawyer, there’s a new confederacy of minorities fighting to change the world, and to change it by example. For there’s good reason to stay inside the closet (in order to keep hold of Marco), but in the end Paul does come out, determined to fight for their rights and against discrimination. It’s the Seventies though and justice is still a long way off. But with Paul’s letters to his former boss, the court’s judges and the prosecution, there’s a Pyrrhic, moral victory over their vicious, murderous homophobia. Punctuated with timely songs, from One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show to Love Don’t Live Here Anymore Travis Fine’s Any Day Now doesn’t quite get under the skin of a queer story, their relationship impossibly easy and a little too reliant (musically) on gay icon Bette Midler. And despite the great performances from its three leads, this performance-driven film is at times clumsy, occasionally veering into TV movie melodrama, and never quite sure which emotional arc to choose. Seventies attitudes to Down syndrome are downplayed, as well as the ethical awkwardness of a gay couple adopting a child that no-one else wants. But nevertheless, for both the victims in Any Day Now, it seems like finally the light does come shining.
Any Day Now is released on 6th September 2013 in the UK