In late 1970s West Hollywood, a chalk-and-cheese gay couple find a budding relationship strengthened by their determination to save a mentally challenged boy from an insensitive legal system, but must battle ingrained societal prejudices and repressive laws to do so.

A feel-good custody fight film.

***1/2 stars

Nearly two years after it won the first of what eventually totaled some dozen audience awards at festivals around the United States, producer-director Travis Fine’s Any Day Now finally arrives on Australian screens in limited release. Though there’s no telling what vagaries of distribution led to the delay (they’re not really important anyway), and the film contains its share of narrative conveniences, there’s no denying the cumulative emotional power on audiences inherent in the story of a closeted couple navigating a new relationship whilst simultaneously battling an unfeeling legal system to keep the Down syndrome boy they’ve rescued from the street.

Shoot-from-the-hip Queens transplant Rudy Donatello (Alan Cumming) lives a frugal existence in a rundown boarding house and barely pays the rent by fronting a drag trio of lip-syncers at a gay Los Angeles club. Rising lawyer Paul Fleiger (Garret Dillahunt) is a decade or so past a divorce from his high school sweetheart and a suffocating job selling insurance in his hometown of Walla Walla, Washington.

Within hours of meeting cute at the club (in a scene that pungently sketches each man’s approach to a sudden crisis), Rudy finds Marco Deleon (Isaac Leyva) in the hallway of his apartment building, apparently abandoned by his junkie mother Marianna (Jamie Ann Allman). Marco is overweight, reticent and afflicted with Down syndrome, and his helplessness has an immediate and galvanising effect on Rudy.

Paul is at first unwilling to help, but as he’s drawn to Rudy the men decide to try and raise Marco themselves even as they’re still sorting out their own relationship and living arrangements. Unfortunately, various agencies and legal entities get in the way, revealing appalling prejudices and deceptive courtroom tricks. Even as his career as an independent singer gains traction (the film’s title is derived from an impassioned last reel performance of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall be Released’), Rudy and Paul find themselves fighting on two fronts: to keep Marco out of foster care and win the right to go public with their love.

The original draft of Any Day Now was written 37 years ago by Emmy winner and children’s TV veteran George Arthur Bloom, and was brought to Fine’s attention by Bloom’s son PJ, the music supervisor here and on Fine’s previous film, The Space Between (as in Boogie Nights, the disco numbers selected offer sly comment on the proceedings). A comparison of the two scripts isn’t possible, but the version shot presumably preserves with understated veracity the 1970s milieu as well as the eyesores that passed for men’s fashion in that era. Regrettably, there are a couple of coincidences involving Rudy’s chance encounters with a wandering Marco that stretch credibility.

Cumming’s center-stage performance as the acid-tongued Rudy is, as others have written, amongst the most indelible of his career to date; it’s too bad the character’s behaviour is so counter-productive to the very goals he’s striving for. Dillahunt brings a grounding sincerity to Paul, and newcomer Leyva has an infectious grin that instantly wins people over. The astutely selected supporting cast is peopled with a clutch of recognisable, dependable faces.

Given the story’s resolution, a title card indicating the progress and current state of adoption law and same-sex couple rights laws would have gone a long way towards connecting the film to the real world.

For all of that, it seems churlish indeed to minimise the film’s obvious sincerity and well-documented connection with audiences. Make no mistake about it, Any Day Now is a feel-good film with a laudable agenda and an ultimately sobering message. Since when are there a surfeit of those on local screens?

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1 hour 38 min
In Cinemas 10 April 2014,