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Exploitation in gay adoption story

  • 17 April 2014

Any Day Now (M). Director: Travis Fine. Starring: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva. 98 minutes

Buyer beware: when the words 'true story' are attached to a dramatic film, 'true' is going to be a relative term. I'm comfortable with Australian filmmaker Robert Connolly's principle, that artistic license can be used to convey the 'truth' of a story even if facts are fudged. As such it's wise to take taglines such as 'Based on a true story' or the more nebulous 'Inspired by a true story' with a grain of salt. In the case of Travis Fine's Any Day Now, better make it a fistful. This is almost entirely a work of fiction, whose tenuous claim to truth obscures an exploitative core.

Fine's film is, on the face of it, fine indeed. It proffers for our consideration the experiences of a gay couple, Rudy and Paul (Cumming and Dillahunt), in 1970s West Hollywood, as they try to gain custody of Marco (Leyva), an abandoned teenager with Down syndrome. Fine heaps injustice upon injustice against these two flawed but kindhearted men, to the point where the viewer might feel they will choke on their moral outrage. Don't be surprised if you openly weep at times. Fine attacks the heartstrings with a velvet sledgehammer.

It's skillfully done, and impressively acted. Cumming's performance as the charismatic drag queen Rudy bears favourable comparison to Dustin Hoffman's best 'dramedic' work in the 1970s. Accomplished character actor Dillahunt (Deadwood) uncharacteristically plays the straight man to the more animated Cumming, as closeted gay lawyer Paul. Their early, lustful encounters quickly kick into a more serious gear as Paul supports Rudy legally and personally in his efforts to gain custody of Marco, whose mother, Rudy's neigbour, is in prison.

Any Day Now accumulates much sympathy for these characters as they are beset by brute social conservatism. Paul operates under a well-founded fear that his sexuality will imperil his career. His and Rudy's status as a gay couple is used against them during the course of their legal wrangling over Marco's fate. It's a gripping story, which appeals to the viewer's natural compassion for these marginalised human beings coming to blows with a society that continues to oppress them. The characters are portrayed with depth and dignity.

The film has the hallmarks of hearfelt social commentary. But commentary on what? If it really were a true story, then that fact alone might justify its existence. But