Any Day Now tells a powerful story. Based on the real-life case of a gay couple in the ‘70s who fought for legal guardianship of a mentally handicapped boy, this is an important story that demands to be told. Unfortunately, while the story itself is moving, Any Day Now fails to distinguish itself as a film.
It’s not that the film is manipulative or a “tear jerker.” Perhaps it is, but I’m not convinced that’s necessarily a bad thing. The events that transpire in Any Day Now are based in fact and based in prejudice, revealing a worrying portrait of a broken welfare system and a bigoted legal system. It deserves to wring tears from its audience, to portray the magnitude of suffering wrought without flinching. Rather, my issue is that the film leans too heavily on the “true story” characteristic without finding truth in its execution. It fails to earn its emotion.
It’s a common failing of adaptations of the true stories; the immensity of the real events weighs down the film and strips it of colour and veracity. So it is here. Director Travis Fine works in a drab palette of browns and greys for the most part, working in darkened sets and typical seventies costumes. The straightforward visual presentation consistently tells rather than shows. Rudy (Alan Cumming) and Paul (Garret Dillahunt) state their love for one another again and again, but it is a rare moment that the film allows them to express it convincingly. Similarly, their bond with Marco (Isaac Levya), the boy they adopt after his drug-addict mother is sent to jail, feels false; we hear how much they care for him, but never see it. It doesn’t help that Fine is unprepared to demonstrate the challenges of raising Marco; one lecture from a doctor and otherwise he appears to be a perfect child.
The dreariness of the film is enlivened by Cumming’s warm, delightful performance. Rudy is a drag queen (and, eventually, a singer), flamboyant, assertive and the kind of role that could easily descend into cliché. But Cumming captures the spark of this man, and the film is its most powerful as we see his brightness fade as the ordeal weighs upon him. Dillahunt – an actor I greatly respect – is less impressive as Paul, with all the charisma of a block of wood. I can understand the decision to pair a character as colourful as Rudy with a plainer, more reserved partner, but Dillahunt (at the script’s behest) underplays the role outside of a fiery courtroom speech late in the piece.
Those courtroom scenes are the centre of the film, allowing the two to get on their (very much deserved) soapbox and rail against the inequality of the American legal system. These are the most effective moments of the film but are sapped of their potential strength by Fine’s inability to fully establish the relationship between these two men and their adoptive son beforehand. The film’s villains – Paul’s boss (Chris Mulkey), an oily lawyer (Gregg Henry) – are detestable but never really feel like people; it renders them as bogeymen rather than the natural result of an unfair system.
Any Day Now tells a story that deserves to be told. A sad story. A story that deserves to be remembered. I only wish that it could have told the story better.
This review was originally published at This is Film.