Some indie films beat artfully around the bush, relishing, say, the New Ambiguity. Any Day Now belongs to an entirely other ilk of indie cinema: the film with a clear and present mission and statement to hammer home. At times, the clarity and sentimental manipulations get the best of the deeper intentions, yet director/cowriter/producer Travis Fine’s film often has the power to draw us into the lives and entwined hearts of a gay couple, in the less equitable era of the early 1970s, and the teenager they seek to adopt and save from his junkie mother.
For this true story, we are dropped into the time and milieu from the outset, the clean-surfaced demimonde realm of West Hollywood, circa 1970, where a drag-queen lip-sync worker (Alan Cumming) links up with a lawyer recently waking up/owning up to his gayness after a divorce. As Cumming says, his new friend/lover follows the old story: “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy kicks open the closet door and finally meets Mr. Right.” Where the plot thickens to the point of a more general-interest drama is the moment when the couple meets Marco (Isaac Leyva, who completely steals the show in this movie), an adolescent with Down syndrome whose mother is headed to jail.
In this film, things too often get spelled out to a fault, or emotionality is laid out like a drama more suitable for Showtime than the art house, but there are hints of subtler and more artistically inclined ideas to keep us tuned in. One of the visually charged recurring motifs, of Marco walking aimlessly around a city with his doll, is simple and haunting, and coated with metaphor. The film also wins points for shedding some rare light on the reality of Down syndrome. Elsewhere, metaphor and other finer points of storytelling take a holiday.
By film’s end, we are fed the title’s reference, as Cumming gives a florid nightclub reading of “I Shall Be Released,” with its setup qualifier “any day now.” The all-important implication of the title is an anticipation that justice will one day prevail, sooner or later. Gays would be treated as citizens with equal rights, and the lives of innocent children in damaging settings will be addressed by the courts with greater sensitivity. And, any day now, filmmakers will figure out ways to make a strong social commentary without descending into cable-TV bathos.