If the Republican nomination campaign were all that an outsider knew of modern America, he or she might believe that the past forty years have not changed us at all. This is one of the many implications of “Any Day Now,” a new film based on the true story of a gay couple in the 1970s who adopts a child with Down Syndrome. Despite the overuse of political pontification, director, writer, and producer Travis Fine has crafted a both timely and universal film, crowned by indomitable performances from Alan Cumming and newcomer Isaac Leyva.
Despite the film’s culminating power, it rests on an abundance of clichés. Rudy (Cumming) is a cross-dressing, lip-synching free spirit who locks eyes with closeted attorney Paul (Garret Dillahunt) from the stage of the gay bar where he performs. A parking-lot blowjob and business card from Paul later, Rudy returns home to find his junkie neighbor blasting music. He confronts her briefly, but when the noise continues late into the night, he bursts through her door to find something he never expected: the woman’s son Marko (Leyva), sitting alone, clutching his doll in the corner. With the mother in jail, Rudy takes Marko into his own house.
Cumming is a relentless whirlwind, playing Rudy as both a sassy spout of one-liners (“This lip-synch thing is just a cover; I really want to be Bette Midler”) and a deeply feeling human being who doesn’t think twice about falling for an overweight, broken boy. His relationship with Marko is achingly beautiful—during their first meal together, Marko says that he usually has donuts for breakfast, to which Rudy replies, “Donuts are poison that make you fat and give you pimples.” He finds cheese and crackers for the boy, setting them in front of him as if they were a French delicacy, making up words and flourishing his arms. When Marko’s blank, misshapen face morphs into a smile, and Rudy smiles back, it’s like something breaks open in both of them.
Rudy’s relationship with Paul pales in comparison. There is clear chemistry from Cumming’s side, but it’s hard to see what the exuberant Rudy would be attracted to in boring, blank-faced Paul. Dillahunt never truly relaxes into physical intimacy, which makes sense when in public, but not in the privacy of their bedroom. Rudy more or less accepts Paul’s closeted nature, barring a brilliant scene in which he mutters, “Good thing the black people had Dr. King instead of you.”
The development of their relationship is mixed up with their interactions with Marko—within several days, they have progressed from a parking-lot encounter to moving in together, so that Marko’s incarcerated mother would sign the temporary custody papers. This rapidity makes it difficult to believe any of the feelings they profess to have. But again, it is Marko who ties them together—when it is the three of them, a tenderness and passion emerge in Paul that make the love story at least slightly plausible. When Marko sees his new bedroom, he asks, “This is my home?” and begins crying. Paul embraces him as Rudy watches from the doorway; it’s clear this is a homecoming for all of them.
Their happy lives together, exemplified by a cheesy but nonetheless affecting holiday montage, is disrupted when the courts discover that Rudy and Paul are not cousins, as Paul repeatedly professes, but lovers. With Marko more or less out of the picture, the film falters, falling victim to stereotyped social workers and antagonistic lawyers who spout textbook lines of bigotry.
The film is nearly overwhelmed by the vigorous proclamation of its political messages, which are especially timely in light of President Obama’s recent statement on same-sex marriage, but there are still moments of immense power. Dillahunt gives a fantastic speech about Marko’s prospects without them, culminating with “No one in this entire world wants him but us.” Leyva delivers the most heartbreaking line of the movie when, after Rudy promises that he’ll bring him home but is thwarted by the court, he is led from the car towards a strange house, proclaiming over and over, “That’s not my home. That’s not my home.” It is here that the real tragedy unfolds; as Paul states in court, the hemming and hawing about “destructive influences” only does further harm to the child.
Paul and Rudy’s hopelessness is nearly incomprehensible today—if such discrimination occurred in a 2012 courtroom, one campaign with CNN should be enough to resolve it. Or so we decide to think. The fact that this story could be transposed with little alteration to the present day is part of what gives the film its power and is a reminder of the terrifying and lingering consequences of prejudice. The message of the film might be heavy-handed at times, but that does not make it any less valid. All we really need to remember are two images: a beautiful, broken boy wandering alone down the highway, and Rudy, with hands outstretched, wracked with grief, singing Bob Dylan’s words: “I swear, my love, we shall be released.”