Shout So Loud, by David Bax
At first glance, Travis Fine’s Any Day Now may seem like a film with an important message at its center. Upon viewing the thing, though, it becomes clear that the debate over child custody and gay parentage on which the film hinges is nothing more than an excuse for unimaginative and clumsily manipulative TV-movie pap.
It’s 1970’s Los Angeles and Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a divorced and mostly closeted gay man, attends a drag show and winds up spending a romantic evening with its star, Rudy (Alan Cumming). Soon thereafter, Rudy takes under his care the mentally challenged teenage son, Marco (Isaac Leyva), of his drug-addicted neighbor, Marianna (Jamie Anne Allman). When Marianna goes to jail and the authorities intend to put Marco into foster care, Rudy recalls that Paul is a lawyer and seeks his advice. The two very quickly become both a couple and Marco’s de facto parents.
In addition to the talents of Dillahunt and Cumming, veteran character actors such as Frances Fisher, Gregg Henry, Chris Mulkey and Mindy Sterling appear. These smaller roles are actually the better ones, since they are so underwritten by Fine and co-writer George Arthur Bloom that the actors are left with plenty of room to define their characters. Mulkey in particular is impressive. Paul and Rudy, on the other hand, are, like the plot, overwritten and suffocated by dialogue that is both too much and too stupid.
Everything that unfolds in Any Day Now does so in a nauseatingly heavy-handed manner. Marianna is not just a junkie mom, she’s the worst junkie mom, sending Marco out of the apartment while she does blow with and then fucks some scumbag guy, who of course calls the boy a retard just for good measure. Rudy, meanwhile, is such a fiercely independent and proud spirit, or whatever, that he can’t stifle an outburst or delay a lover’s quarrel even when he knows it might cost Paul the job that allows them to care for Marco at all. Paul, all quiet and reserved, gets his own very predictable outburst as well, when he stands up in court. Ridiculous and corny as the scene is, however, Dillahunt does at least manage to sell the line, “This is bullshit!” with an idiosyncratic bent that provides one of his character’s brief moments of recognizable humanity. Their attorney during Paul’s eruption is a caricature of a smooth and quippy black man, played by Don Franklin in literally the worst wig ever. There’s more tension in whether his hair is going to topple from his head than anywhere else in the film.
That hair and the wide lapel-sporting black man who wears it are indicative of the film’s other major problem which is its inability to stop reminding you that it takes place in the 70’s. The gigantic cars, the floppy hair, the enormous tie knots and the endless, endless polyester give the impression that this entire world was built the day before the movie starts. There’s no lived-in history to Any Day Now. It’s more like a parody than a drama.
Patrick Wang’s recent In the Family covers some of the same ground as this does, at least in the legal sense. Also the story of a gay man fighting for custody, that lovely film did everything Any Day Now fails to do. It made the tapestry of its world familiar and believable while being both more about character and, at the same time and in its own deep and subtle way, more about its message. Any Day Now is chiefly about cardboard archetypes making speeches and/or crying.
Tears are not only featured prominently but are also the film’s desired result for its audience. But it grasps so desperately at every chance to make you well up that you end up feeling more sorry for the movie itself than for the characters. At least, you feel sorry up to a point, after which it just becomes exhausting and annoying. By the time you get to the scene at the end where Rudy belts out the song “I Shall Be Released” – from which the film gets its title – while gesticulating like a toddler having a tantrum, you wish the whole thing would just shut up.