West Hollywood, 1979. One night in a gay bar, Paul (Garret Dillahunt), who has barely come to terms with his homosexuality after the collapse of his heterosexual marriage, locks eyes with drag performer Rudy (Alan Cumming). They have a sexual encounter in the parking lot and Paul gives Rudy his phone number.
The next morning, when investigating the loud music blaring from his neighbor’s apartment, Rudy finds a boy with Down’s syndrome (Isaac Leyva) home alone. He takes care of the boy, Marco, for awhile before a Child Services agent arrives and informs him that Marco’s mother was jailed on drug charges. Rudy decides immediately that foster care is no place for Marco. Recalling that Paul is a lawyer who works at the District Attorney’s office, Rudy decides to call Paul for advise on how to procure custody.
Rudy moves in with Paul, pretending to be his cousin, so that the court deems his home acceptable for Marco (his apartment is one notch above project housing). From there, the men’s relationship grows. Eventually, they battle for guardianship of Marco as an openly gay couple, an unthinkable proposition in 1979 — with the help of an African-American attorney who knows what it’s like to be marginalized by society, no less.
I am normally not a fan of plot summary in reviews, but in this case, the details are important because the story features not just one unbelievable coincidence, but a handful. A gay couple who just met seeks custody of a kid with Down’s syndrome who they also just met with the help of a black lawyer… in 1979!? Despite the melodramatic, made-for-Lifetime filmmaking style of “Any Day Now,” I couldn’t help but be engrossed by such an unbelievable true story. Why did these men feel such a sense of responsibility to a child they didn’t know, and how did they have the courage to fight this battle in an era when gays were still largely viewed by society as deviants?
Immediately after the credits began to roll, I hopped online to find out more about the real case. When consulting the press notes, I realized that I had made a grave mistake. Greeting me were the dreaded words “Inspired by a true story.” Not based on a true story, but inspired by one. This is Hollywood lingo for “We would like you to believe that all of this really happened so it packs more of a dramatic punch, but it’s actually somewhere between 50 and 95 percent fabricated.” Indeed, nowhere could I find any information about the true story that “inspired” the film and how it differed from what’s onscreen, so I’m left to conclude that writers Travis Fine and George Arthur Bloom made a lot of it up.
That “Any Day Now” is essentially fiction takes away a great deal of its power, because without the explicit assurance that all of this really happened, the events are simply too farfetched to accept as plausible and, therefore, what the filmmakers seek to say about humanity through them is invalidated. The only reason I believed that the movie was entirely fact-based in the first place was because this year’s documentaries “Searching for Sugar Man” and “The Imposter” taught me that some stories are not too strange to be real. Ironically, the latter doc is largely about the distances that humans will go to convince ourselves that something is true if we want to believe it — which is exactly what happened with me and “Any Day Now.” I wanted desperately to celebrate the existence of such an extraordinary true story, because who doesn’t love an extraordinary true story?
Why Fine and Bloom decided to pursue this premise is something of a mystery, given how many legitimate stories of gay custody struggles are just waiting to be told. In 1979, an openly gay man who procreated before coming out of the closet could have easily been legally denied access to his own children — why not tell one such tale instead? And today, several states still prohibit gay adoption — wouldn’t that have been a more socially relevant subject-matter for Fine and Bloom to use to convey the messages of “Any Day Now”? Patrick Wang’s vastly superior “In the Family,” still being released in select cities around the country, proves that modern gay custody battles are an extremely potent topic for a film. But Fine and Bloom would rather sacrifice authenticity for heightened dramatic stakes.
The only bright spot of “Any Day Now” is the cast, who at least make the rather outrageous premise feel credible in the moment. With less skilled actors, the film could have easily become laughable: I mean, come on, a drag queen taking in a kid with Down’s syndrome? Not even the tolerance-porn that is “Glee” would dare adopt that as a subplot. But Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt really make the audience ache for this couple, who just want to do the right thing for a helpless child. And Isaac Leyva, a first-time screen actor who actually has Down’s syndrome, does a far better job with his difficult role than any actor without a disability could have done. (Though, it should be noted, the challenges of raising a child with Down’s are never once touched upon.) What a shame that these tremendous performances were wasted on a film that’s essentially a cheat. Seek out the aforementioned “In the Family” instead.