As a concept, morality would seem to fall, without equivocation, into the realm of the blindingly obvious.
Do the good, the decent, the upright thing and you are behaving in a moral fashion; indulge in behaviour that is demonstrably hurtful, cruel, malicious and you are being, quite clearly, immoral.
Unfortunately life is rarely that straightforward, a point graphically made in writer-director Travis Fine’s emotional poignant, deeply affecting Any Day Now, the story of three disparate people struggling to forge a family in the face of fairly primitively expressed ideas of what is moral and just.
In the universe inhabited by the judges, lawyers and government workers of late ’70s Los Angeles, it is far preferable, and infinitely more moral by extension, for a 14 year old Down Syndrome boy like Marco DeLeon (Isaac Leyva) to remain with his junkie, sexually profligate mother Marianna (Jamie Anne Allman) than to be placed permanently with a loving same sex couple, played by Alan Cummings (Rudy Donatello) and Garret Dillahunt (Paul Fleiger).
Despite the fact that Marco, who ends up in the care of Rudy, and his newly acquired, largely closeted boyfriend Paul after he is discovered alone by Rudy in his apartment block following his mother’s arrest, flourishes in the care of the two men, leaving him permanently with the same sex couple is largely viewed throughout the film as an act of unconscionable negligence by the authorities.
It is a system predicated on the basis that the homosexual “lifestyle” is deviant, and that anyone who comes into contact with it, especially a child of impressionable age and limited intellectual and emotional capabilities (this was an age in which disabled people were often viewed as incapable of living fully-functioning independent lives), will be forever corrupted and damaged as a result.
Hence, despite flamboyant, big-hearted ex-drag queen Rudy and more circumspect attorney Paul’s vociferous attempts to find the system in the courts, and the testament of both Marco’s teacher and his Family Services case worker that the young man has grown in the then-unorthodox couple’s care, the courts side again and again with the prevailing morality of the day.
Granted Paul and Rudy do fudge the truth on occasion, stating in the court at one point that they are cousins to avoid the too-close scrutiny of a judgemental polity, represented most obviously by Paul’s boss District Attorney Wilson (Chris Mulkey), but theirs is largely a fight borne of the idea that what is good and right will prevail over the archaically moralistic.
It is, unfortunately, a slice of Pollyannic optimism that rests more on the sense that right will prevail, against all the odds, and while it sustains both Rudy and Paul in their long uphill fight, you begin to wonder if it will be enough for them to merge on the right side of their David and Goliath battle.
Courtroom battles aside however, and quite a bit of time is spent in them attempting to bridge the yawning gap between the law and morality, a chasm that their lawyer Lonnie (Don Franklin) doubts can be filled not that it stops him trying with cheeky resolve to do so, the real heart of Any Day Now lies in the deep parental love that these two men have for Marco.
Finding its genesis in Rudy’s wholeheartedly selfless embrace of the young man, who he desperately wants to protect from a world that doesn’t seem to really care for him despite its protestations to the contrary, an intense caring that is entered into by Paul after only a brief pause, it is the powerful emotional centre of Fine’s surprisingly nuanced film.
It would have been extremely easy given the forces at play to paint this story in highly melodramatic terms, a titanic battle for the well-being of a child that Rudy rightly observes has suffered a great deal of abuse and neglect that he never asked for and over which he had no control, but instead Fine practises admirable restraint.
While he makes it clear on which side of the fence his sympathies lies, with the final scene an emotionally-wrenching experience that will stay with you long after the film has ended, and some points are played out a little over-obviously, he is content for the greater part to let the story of Rudy, Paul and Marco, based on a series of true events, tell itself, relying particularly on Cummings impressive ability to play both larger-than-life and heartbreakingly intimate all at once.
Both Dillahunt, who is calm at the centre of this emotional storm, and Leyva, whose smile could light up a room and comes delightfully to life dancing expressively in one scene to “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, are also impressive.
Fine wisely realises that though there are significant societal issues at play here, Any Day Now is essentially a tale of what happens when three disparate individuals find a home and a family with each other, one that though it may not be conventionally recognised, is exactly what each of them need, and that they decide is very much worth fighting for.
It is profoundly moving, intensely personal, and while some of the judges such as the one played by Alan Rachins are reduced to little more than cardboard cut out narrative devices, Any Day Now is, for the most part,an authentic, emotionally grounded, richly rewarding journey into the murky world where prejudice, policy and the real world meet, shining a light on one family’s attempt to demonstrate that morality make not be quite as clear cut as society often makes it out to be.