‘ Love me! I’m such a victim and suffered so much but I won’t take it any longer, I am gay, and I am worthy and I love myself and I will be brave and I shall be released and I will throw in a child with Down’s syndrome and I will make you laugh and cry or kill you with sanctimoniousness’. Any Day Now is THAT kind of movie.
The film is set in 1979, based on a true story and gets its title from the Bob Dylan song, (Any Day Now) ‘I Shall be Released’ . It tells the tale of Rudy Donatello (Alan Cummings), a drag queen who lives next to Marianne Delson (Jamie Anne Allman), a heroin addict and the mother of Marco, a young child with Down’s syndrome. Rudy meets and falls in love with Paul Fliger (Garret Dillahunt), a D.A., just at the moment when Marianne gets arrested. Rudy decides to care for Marco rather than have the child go into social services and gets Paul to help as their own relationship deepens. The rest of the film is a demonstration of how the US justice system valued the maintenance of homophobia over the well-being of a young child with special needs.
Any Day Now is everything I hate in gay movies: smug, superior, like a little moral lesson to a wayward child by a bunch of Miss Know-it-Alls. Alan Cummings has some good bravura moments and a convincing accent. But it also looks like he’s been taking lessons on New York humour from Liza Minnelli, faux-cynical but with a silent drum-roll of a twist, and he can’t stop bloody twinkling and wanting to be loved, even when he’s lip-synching as a drag queen in full Carmen Miranda gear. He even sings a series of numbers (‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’, ‘I Shall Be Released), interspersed throughout the film and meant to evoke the state of feeling of the characters but so trite in choice and in execution that it gives kitsch a bad name.
Travis Fine is very good with actors. In spite of the above, Alan Cummings is at all times riveting, even when he doesn’t need to be. Garret Dillahunt looks like Glen Campbell did in the period and he does evoke a WASP up-tight gaucheness rooted in a settler sense of justice that is in keeping with the character and the time. It was lovely to see the great Frances Fisher back on the screen as the judge as well; and Chris Mulkey is convincingly oily as Paul’s homophobic colleague. There’s also a great performance from Jamie Anne Allman as the mother: she’s very good at conveying different emotions simultaneously and gives off an air of resentment at the injustice of having to take care of a kid like that when she could be getting stoned that reminds me of Jennifer Jason Leigh at her best. And of course, I don’t know if you can call it a performance, but what Fine was able to get from and do with the young Isaac Leyva as the child with Down’s syndrome is quite extraordinary.
The film looks 1979 and, when Cummings isn’t singing, has a wonderful Disco soundtrack. But though the film looks and sounds 1979 and is ostensibly based on real events, it has no idea what being gay in 1979 felt like much less how to convey it. Sometimes when people think they have all the answers, they reveal their ignorance of the questions and this is true of this film. There’s a moment where Paul isn’t taking Rudy’s phone calls and Rudy goes into the DA’s office, his drag make-up not fully off his face, screaming his name. There’s a reason why the fear of blackmail was so potent in pre-Liberation days. A 1979 Rudy would not have risked the job of someone he ostensibly cares about and someone who is in a position to help him by behaving like that. But here the film asks the viewer to side with Rudy; as if being in the closet in 1979 was the stuff of cowards rather than a way of coping in a homophobic society where discovery often led to jail, loss of livelihood and social ostracism. The film does show Paul losing his job later but the point is that a 1979 Rudy should have known that. And really a 2013 Travis Fine should know that and get us to side with Paul rather Rudy.
The film lacks a historical perspective, a real understanding of people, the choices they had in the period and why and how they might have behaved as they did. It is also extraordinarily manipulative. All it needed was to throw the kid under a bus and the coercion to cry would have been complete, though the filmmakers come close: they tell us the child died under a bridge after four days of wondering alone, in the cold, unattended, and presumably facing every conceivable kind of danger, like Lillian Gish in Orphans of the Storm. Thankfully they show that off-screen. But just as you’re about to exhale with relief at the small mercy, the film throws in a montage of a letter Paul sends to everyone who prevented the child from having a home, basically blaming them for having killed him: clunky, crude, shameless, disgusting filmmaking.