It would take a heart of stone — or zero tolerance for soap — to resist Any Day Now, a full-throttle weepie about a West Hollywood gay couple trying to adopt a neglected boy with Down syndrome.
Their quest might be an easier one today, when 16 American states permit joint adoption for same-sex couples, and all manner of family forms proliferate on and off-screen. But the film, loosely taken from real-life events, is set in 1979, when institutional homophobia was as common as pointy collars on loud print shirts. Both get ample play in a period piece that takes innocent joy in its cheesy trappings; the wigs are a fright, but never mind.
Intended or not, the movie's title, which plays off the Bob Dylan protest song "I Shall Be Released," implies a double meaning. Any day now may bring the salvation of Marco, a quiet, sweet boy bouncing from one inhospitable government facility to the next after being abandoned by his junkie mother (Jamie Ann Allman). Any day now, too, just beyond the horizon of this scenario, America will begin to come to terms with the LGBT community and the question of their civil rights.
The movie turns on one couple's legal struggle to adopt a child they've nurtured for more than a year, but it's also an improbable love story between three lost souls united by their outsider status. Abandoned when his mother finally goes to jail, Marco — played by the charming Isaac Leyva, who gets to show off his disco-dancing chops — is rescued by his neighbor, Rudy Donatello (Alan Cumming), a flamboyant drag artist who knows what it means to be down on his luck.
Cumming always gives good value, and his regular bursts into cabaret numbers are certainly an added bonus. Yet this instinctively ironic actor doesn't seem best suited to play the movie's most sentimental creation. A mouthy, heart-of-gold construct, Rudy dresses like Ratso Rizzo and comes on like The Fonz.
Still, there's something moving about the loving ease that grows between Rudy and his buttoned-up lover, Paul (Raising Hope's Garret Dillahunt, prevailing heroically over a preposterous rug), who's an ambitious district attorney with one foot still in the closet.
Their relationship, fortified by blossoming affection for the boy they've taken into their home, complicates the otherwise loaded die of a plot, which is piled high with hard-faced or weaselly adversaries, all of them either heedless or determined to bring down this happily cobbled together family. The bosses, judges and prosecutors can't just be haters; they have to look like haters too.
A former actor himself, Travis Fine is a sensitive director of his three leads, but he's an unsubtle writer of declamatory dialogue, and his lack of technical craft shows. In fact, Any Day Now is one of those rare films that works better on a small screen. In the movie theater, I was continually distracted by murky lighting, heads rising out of frame, and in-your-face close-ups that went nowhere dramatically. But viewed on DVD, the filmmaking flaws melted into the background of a bang-up, social-issue TV movie with a big heart and enough courage to play out an ending we may not see coming — but one that makes perfect sense in light of the madness that's gone before.