Life in the bad old days
Alan Cumming redeems 'Any Day Now'
by David Lamble
It seems astonishing to write this, but with 104 entries on the Internet Movie Database and counting, the Scottish-born, out bi actor Alan Cumming gives a captivating breakout performance in #97, Any Day Now. It's a moving, funny account of a gay couple's attempt to rescue a developmentally challenged child from the clutches of a California judicial system whose mindless cruelty could make Charles Dickens weep.
The story opens on an October weekend in 1979 as Cumming's Rudy is sashaying across the stage of a small West Hollywood drag club. Rudy and his "sisters" would make the cut of Best Lip-Sync Acts from the 70s. The opening three-minute montage gives us a whiff of what it was like to be young, queer and out for a good time before AIDS, Reagan and the culture wars made us conscious of our place on the world stage.
After making eye-contact with Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a cute if uptight number in the audience, Rudy finds himself giving oral sex in the front seat of Paul's car. Then the boys chat. Rudy's story, delivered in Cumming's spot-on East Coast dockworker accent, is an in-joke for those of us who fondly recall the parade of broad-shouldered female impersonators who could have made the varsity football squad.
"In my first year of high school, my father made me play football. Coach told me to line up center, bend over and grab the ball. Donnie Walsh was the quarterback; he walked up behind me, put his hand on my ass, and asked for the snap. I was in heaven. Honestly, it's all been downhill from then on."
Here the movie delivers the first of several emotional sucker punches, as the boys find themselves interrogated by an angry LAPD vice cop who forces Paul to out himself. It's an edgy moment that would have felt right at home in William Friedkin's Cruising.
"Are you boys having some fun?"
"No, officer, we're actually just talking about playing high school football."
"And you look like you've played with a few balls in your time!"
The cop pulls out his revolver and shouts, "Show me your hands! I'm going to count to three."
"Big man with your big gun!"
"Shut up, and do as he says!"
"One, two, three!"
"Wait, you pull that trigger, and it's Murder One! I'm with the DA's office. A jury will convict you in five seconds, and you'll spend the next 50 years in a cell with some guy who wants to play cops n' robbers with you every night."
"Sure, the DA's office would like to hear about one of their own getting sucked off in a parking lot."
"I'm sure Internal Affairs would love to hear about one of their own drawing his weapon and threatening two unarmed civilians. So let's just both forget about this little misunderstanding."
The boys begin the kind of furtive liaison that usually collapses under the strain of two wildly out-of-sync personalities. Sucker punch #2 will define this odd couple for the balance of the movie. When Rudy has a screaming match with one of his drug-addled neighbors, the woman turns out to have a Down's syndrome child, Marco (Isaac Leyva), whose abject situation summons up parental feelings Rudy didn't know he had.
Basing his movie on a real-life situation, director Travis Fine (with co-writer George Arthur Bloom) offers a ride back to what now seems like a prehistoric time when queers had no rights the judicial system felt any need to respect. The part of the story that plays like Court TV could serve as a video amicus curiae brief for the US Supreme Court's upcoming hearings on same-sex marriage.
Cumming is the most compelling reason to catch Any Day Now if what you're looking for is a good time at the movies. A classically trained British actor, his TV/film resume is so ladled with oddities – Boogie Woogie, Robot Chicken, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical – that one suspects he's spent his American camera-time securing paychecks to support an addiction to live theatre. Admittedly it's not unusual for British actors to suddenly blossom in their 40s or 50s – look at Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ian McKellen – but this lovely turn from Cumming should be a cue for the boy to get serious about his movies.
Dedicated to reminding us how we used to feel about our public image in the bad old days, Any Day Now could have been a real pill to sit through without Cumming. From the opening lip-sync number through simulated oral sex, to serious cop-baiting, to embarrassing a closeted number in the DA's office, to sassing a bigoted judge, Cumming brings an energy to the part that lifts the movie up. With long hair and a 5 o'clock shadow, this seriously sexy man in his mid-40s reminds us just how much fun drag slightly titled towards genderfuck can be. With his musical talents and slashing wit, Cumming would be a great candidate for The Charles Pierce Story.