A movie like “Any Day Now” needs exactly what actor Alan Cumming gives it — a brilliant performance that is eye-catching and provocative, imbued with such feeling that this turns a social-issue film into a must-see movie.
A really big must-see.
Playing Rudy Donatello, a drag performer in a West Hollywood gay bar in the late ’70s, Cumming is a wound-up bundle of energy looking for an outlet.
This could be as a singer or a militant in some greater cause or in a love affair that gets past a multitude of his defense mechanisms. For his sins, Rudy gets all three.
Not that Cumming is without competition as an actor here. For this comes from young Isaac Leyva, a student from Performing Arts Studio West, a school for people with disabilities. He plays Marco, a teenager with Down syndrome abandoned by his junkie mother.
With a calm and collected approach, Leyva (below left) makes Marco a person and not an issue. He delivers a sensitive performance that asks for only empathy not maudlin sympathy.
“Any Day Now” makes an unusually high recommendation for the well-aged screenplay. Director Travis Fine apparently stumbled upon George Arthur Bloom’s script a good 30 years after he wrote it.
For “Any Day Now” neatly juggles three stories concerning a romance, the evolution of a performer’s talent and an emotionally shattering court case.
Just maybe it helped the old script that Bloom’s Rudy, based on a neighborhood character he knew in his rough Brooklyn neighborhood back in the day, got re-imagined by another filmmaker who gave him a West Hollywood edge.
So don’t let appearances fool you. Beneath the gaudy exterior of Cumming’s West Hollywood drag queen lies a tough-as-nails Brooklynite who takes crap from no one.
The key factor here is the date — 1979. Even today America has yet to shake its engrained homophobia. Yet things were ever so much worse then.
The Stonewall riots were only a decade earlier and homosexuality still a crime in many places and a social stigma everywhere.(Sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court only in 2003.)
Rudy’s partner is also his attorney, Garret Dillahunt’s Paul Fleiger. Despite their relationship, he remains steadfastly in the closet in order to keep his job at a law firm, a subterfuge that ultimately fails and leads to his firing.
Without any heavy-handedness, the film deftly portrays the casual bigotry and outright malice toward gays by the legal system, child welfare agency and nearly every strata of society then. A child in the custody of gays is considered so heinous that the child’s best interests get lost in the argument.
While this battle heats up, so does the relationship between an overtly gay man and a closeted professional who in turn encourages the drag performer to spread his wings. This happens when Paul buys the tape recorder for Rudy to create demos to showcase his singing abilities for local club owners.
As adventurous as Rudy is in his sexual and social life, he is strangely reticent, or maybe the word is defeatist, when it comes to climbing the show-business ladder.
He has created so many defenses to ward off loneliness and despair that he is unable to grasp the full extent of his talent.
There’s a lovely moment in the bar where instead of telling his life story to this new romance, he sings a song that tells a tale that encapsulates his talent and reticence. He’s shy but not shy, and Cumming plays this dichotomy brilliantly.
Fine lives up to his name in his astute direction of the script he co-authored. He shrewdly juggles the three story lines and its characters — the judge (Frances Fisher) locked in her era’s prejudices, a wily DA (Chris Mulkey), bigoted law partner (Gregg Henry), selfish mother (Jamie Anne Allman), caring special needs teacher (Kelli Williams) and the black attorney (Don Franklin) who handles the appeal.
The key though is the two love stories. The first is between Rudy and Paul, which forces a man to own up to who he is no matter what the era’s prejudices.
The second is between the men and the boy, Marco. In becoming parents, they discover their better selves, the unselfish, caring, nurturing ones that allow each to blossom in his own field.
Marco forces Rudy to tell him a bedtime story each night and insists on a happy ending. I am not about to disclose whether this movie does or does not have such an ending, but it’s a tribute to Fine, and to Bloom, lo these many years later, that they did select truth.
Opens: December 14, 2012 (Music Box Films)
Production company: PFM Pictures
Cast: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva, Frances Fisher, Gregg Henry, Don Franklin, Chris Mulkey, Kelli Williams
Director: Travis Fine
Screenwriters: Travis Fine, George Arthur Bloom
Producers: Travis Fine, Kristine Fine, Chip Hourihan
Executive producers: Maxine Makover, Anne O’Shea, Wayne LaRue Smith, Dan Skahen, Anne O’Shea
Director of photography: Rachel Morrison
Production designer: Elizabeth Garner
Music: Joey Newman
Costume designer: Samantha Kestrel
Editor: Tom Cross
R rating, 97 minutes