If "Any Day Now" were a higher-profile movie, Alan Cumming would be getting Oscar talk for his spectacular performance.
Cumming is an actor whose big choices can overwhelm a role. It's not hard to imagine him slipping comfortably into every character Maggie Smith plays. But that's not a problem in "Any Day Now," in which he is Rudy, a drag performer who longs for a family.
Rudy could probably have that problem today, but the movie is set in the late 1970s, a time when Rudy's boyfriend (played by Garret Dillahunt, who's not as funny as he is on TV's "Raising Hope" but just as good) must stay in the closet at work and Rudy is repeatedly thwarted in his attempt to adopt an abused child with Down syndrome.
Rudy is a flashy part, but Cumming makes the surprisingly right decision to go low-key. There are bold flourishes, as in his drag performances and a torchy nightclub rendition of "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." But Cumming, like the movie he's in, remains true to the time period. Rudy tries to live his life quietly because he knows society isn't ready to deal with him.
At least until sweet-natured Marco (Isaac Leyva) enters his life, Rudy keeps to himself, and Cumming keeps a lid on his inherent brashness. But the world seems to get bigger for Rudy once he meets Marco, and so does Cumming's performance as the actor zeroes in on his character's anger and frustration.
The best thing about "Any Day Now" is how unpreachy it is. You get the sense that writer/director Travis Fine expects us to compare the present environment for gay people with that of the '70s, but the movie does not go out of its way to point out, for instance, how much the odds are stacked against Rudy in the casually homophobic court system. Fine also lets us intuit why Rudy sparks to Marco -- he knows what it's like to feel different -- without feeling the need to spell it out. My one regret about the movie, a fairly significant one, is that Marco's character is not better developed.
Unsightly wigs and ribald musical performances aside, "Any Day Now" is a real-seeming movie, which is to say you should not expect fake uplift. The film's ending, unfortunately, feels all too appropriate for the time in which the movie is set. But the indomitable character of Rudy also points the way toward the present, implying that the enormous changes of the past few decades would not have happened if it weren't for the courage (and, yes, the feather boas) of people like him.
"ANY DAY NOW"
Directed by: Travis Fine
Starring: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva, Frances Fisher
Rated: R, for strong language and drug use
Should you go? Yes. Like "Mad Men," it's one of those looks back that illustrates how much things have changed. ***