Any Day Now: ‘Based On A True Story’ My Ass

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Any Day Now (2012)
Directed by Travis Fine
Written by Travis Fine and George Arthur Bloom
97 min.

Spoiler-free.

What does ‘based on a true story’ mean?

The phrase gets used a lot to promote movies, and both your average joe and your above-average joe, when seeing said phrase, typically assumes it to mean that the basics of the story are true. Maybe there’s some artistic license here or there, some composite characters or whatever, but the movie bears enough resemblance to the actual facts that the phrase can be used in good faith.

This assumption is usually correct. Most movies ‘based on a true story’ are, in fact, that. But occasionally, they aren’t. Occasionally, the phrase is used as a deception. The filmmakers and/or producers know that the movie will have more pull if the phrase is there, so they stick it on a poster or promotional material, even though the film is entirely fictional.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic example of this. The film’s plot is entirely made up, and real life serial killer Ed Gein, whom Leatherface is ‘based on’, is nothing like him. Yet, right on the poster, it says: “What happened is true. Now the motion picture that’s just as real.”

I’m okay with horror movies doing this. To me, it’s like a carnival barker hyping up a freak show. Yes, he’s outright lying, but who cares? It enhances the experience. I’m all for audiences being fooled so long as it’s in good fun.

The deception of Any Day Now is most certainly not in good fun.

I stumbled upon this movie on Netflix, and decided to give it a shot, based on its brief summary:

“Rudy [Alan Cumming] and Paul [Garret Dillahunt] take in their neighbor’s teenage son Marco, who has Down syndrome, when his neglectful mother throws him out of her apartment. Their attempt to legally adopt Marco sparks a court battle over gay rights in this powerful true story.”

Sold. For one thing, I like both those actors. But more importantly, I’ll watch any movie with a mentally handicapped character in it, because I’m always curious how the subject matter is handled. One of my favorite guilty pleasure genres is what I call ‘Tardsploitation’. I Am Sam, The Other Sister, and Riding The Bus With My Sister are all hallmarks of the genre (as are a bunch of Hallmark films.) These films, though well intentioned, are often complete and utter messes. Train wrecks that you can’t look away from. No matter how good an actor is, when they try to play mentally handicapped, it’s always uncomfortable and minstrel-y.

I also like to watch movies that feature actually mentally handicapped people. Often these are inherently better, because the character is at least believable, but sometimes it’s clear they are being exploited (such as in the unwatchable festival darling Girlfriend). A rare exception to this rule is the phenomenal documentary Monica & David, which is one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years. I reviewed that one a little while ago.

The down syndrome character in Any Day Now is played by an actor who actually has down syndrome. And he does a good job, I guess. It’s hard for me to really judge his ability as an actor, because he isn’t exactly given much to do. He’s used solely as a MacGuffin, which is unfortunate—but as I was watching, I remembered, this is based on a true story, so for all I know, the real life kid was exactly this.

As I watched, I used this same logic to rationalize pretty much every strange or seemingly mishandled aspect of this movie. For instance, Alan Cumming is basically doing a gay Dustin Hoffman impression the whole time, which on the surface, may seem like a bizarre acting choice, but hey, that could be exactly how this guy really sounded. And in the third act of the film, a black lawyer character shows up, wearing one of the worst afro wigs I’ve ever seen, and speaking like a poor man’s Jackie Chiles. That could be exactly how that lawyer looked and sounded. I have to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, I thought the movie was pretty forgettable, but I very much enjoyed the story, or at least, a few basic story beats: the court case and its unfair aftermath. I love stories like these, stories of miscarriages of justice. In fact, the Paradise Lost trilogy is my favorite trilogy of all time. (Sorry, Star Wars.) After it was over, I was eager after the movie ended to go online and look up the actual court case and read up on it, and perhaps even see if there are any documentaries on it.

It turns out there aren’t. It also turns out that the movie is 100% made up. None of it happened. Literally none of it. So why the ‘Based On A True Story’? Apparently, George Arthur Bloom, the original screenwriter, lived in Brooklyn in the late 70’s, and knew a gay guy named Rudy (who wasn’t even a drag performer or singer like the character based on him in the film is) that would occasionally watch a kid with down syndrome who’s mother was a drug addict. George was inspired by this to write a fictional screenplay about a gay guy trying to adopt a kid with down syndrome. That script went unproduced for decades until Travis Fine heard about it and decided to rewrite it with George, further veering it from the true story it was barely based on in the first place.

But things get even more despicable. In 2008, a documentary came out called Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. The documentary itself isn’t great (largely due to the abysmally distracting editing) but the 100% true story it tells is one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard in my life. And I suspect Travis Fine thought so too.

A major story beat of the true story in Dear Zachary is quite similar to one in Any Day Now. I’m not accusing Travis of stealing plot elements, because I have no idea if he even saw Dear Zachary, but the way I see it, if you’re despicable enough to shamelessly say a movie is ‘based on a true story’ when it absolutely isn’t, it’s plausible that you might be despicable enough to lift a key detail that you liked from another movie.

Even if the Dear Zachary thing is pure coincidence, Travis Fine is still a huckster filmmaker. When a movie has the phrase ‘Based On A True Story’ attached to it, you naturally rate it a bit higher in your mind as you watch it. You’re more forgiving, because you know a lot of it really happened. You do this because you’re a good person, and you love people, and you don’t want to see them suffering unjustly, and the thought of bad things happening to not just made up characters but real people is really affecting. For Travis to exploit the good nature of filmgoers so that his movie is received a bit better and potentially makes more money is sick.

I could’ve tacked ‘Based On A True Story’ onto the poster and/or promotional material for my first film, Shredder, but I didn’t. Though many elements are autobiographical, I could not, in good conscience, stick that vague phrase on it, because to me, I had changed enough that Shredder was definitely its own thing. But Shredder is lightyears closer to a true story than Any Day Now is.

Hell, even Texas Chainsaw is closer.

Fuck this movie.

2 1/2 out of 5 Codys for the movie itself,
0 out of 5 Codys taking into account the deception behind it.

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17 Responses to Any Day Now: ‘Based On A True Story’ My Ass

  1. Val says:

    Thank you! As I was reading site after site in search of the truth, in the true story the movie Any day now claimed to be based on the original authors true story. Understand I being fully aware it was “based” on a true story”. I was not expecting a mirror story line. Yet I feel duped once again. It is based on “a” true story. Just what part of “a” true story is it. Then I found your post. Not much. I demand new rating system . R/NT not true add S for strong as applicable PG/SPL strong poetic license.
    It is fun however to search it out and when its more interesting in research than the book or the movie, I love it! However pleasant, always a surprise.

  2. Levi says:

    We just finished watching the movie literally few minutes ago.
    Honestly, I didn’t see any sign that this movie was based on true story, from the beginning to the end.
    I can understand the frustration for the deceitful advertisement.
    But whether it’s a true story or not, that’s not the point of the movie.
    For all we know, this story can be happening anywhere either in present time or back then in the 70’s.
    The point is how injustice happens, due to the fact that homosexuals were and are still discriminated where in fact a child that need parents’ love are being denied this right. This is heart breaking.
    If you can’t empathise enough, imagine putting yourself in the child’s shoes. Imagine you are a Down syndrome that was never really loved by your mother from the day that you were born until you’re grown up enough to understand this. Imagine being tossed around and one day there seems to be a chance that you find somebody who really cares for your well being. And then it was taken away from you.
    If I were this Down syndrome boy, I would cherish the moment when I feel loved and will hold on to it as much as possible.

    So, no, it doesn’t matter whether this is based on true story or not. What matters is that this movie can be an eye opener which clearly doesn’t seem to go through you, Cody Clarke.

    • Cody Clarke says:

      You’re correct that the story is plausible and that the discrimination and neglect on display in the movie can be found in real life. On those levels, the movie is satisfactory. But I can’t condone deceit.

      I’m glad the movie worked for you, and thanks for reading my review.

      • Victoria Óliver says:

        This is 2015, so a few years after Any Day Now was released, so when I saw it on Netflix, I was curious to see Alan Cumming in it, ever since I saw him in Cabaret (truly phenomenal performance.) Maybe I’m a cynic, but I never believe it when a film is “based on a true story.” That doesn’t take away from my feelings towards the film, though.What part(s) is it based on? Is it 100% true? 50%? 25%? I think people who expect authencity should stick to documentaries … I personally liked The March of The Penguins. Otherwise be prepared to be upset if it doesn’t meet your high standards. If the film was based on a gay man trying to adopt a teenager with down’s syndrome – that’s good enough for me. As I said earlier, how much of it was based “on a true story?)

        I have to admit that some of the scenes were difficult to watch… I’ve never personally known a gay man,or a Down’s Syndrome child, either, and it opened my eyes a bit and made me think about that segment of our pópulation. It was a damn fine film, IMO.

        How many times have you seen a film rated GP or R or X? It’s very subjective. Perhaps Mr. Fine might have said ” Inspired by true events” or the ubiquitous ” Inspired by … But any similarities are coincidental…” Or have said nothing about its relevançe. I think you were playing Gotcha! Big deal… I still liked it – a lot.

        V

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  4. Psudonymn says:

    My confusion over your “outrage” is simply that in the middle of this long-winded diatribe you say that the writer had stated he got the idea from seeing his neighbour Rudy often taking care of a mentally handicapped child tragically belonging to a drug addicted mother. So he elaborated on this original story a bit to round it out, he looked into a fictional future of the situation and BASED A SCREENPLAY on that original theme. The bones of the story were there in real life, so what more do you need? And does it really matter anyway? Any Day Now is a beautifully written and wonderfully acted movie. It’s a story that moves people. Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that why we watch movies?

  5. Howard Mandel says:

    As a gay parent of a mentally handicapped son this story was too close to home. The ending sent me in to deep heart-wrenching sobs. I was actually relieved to hear that the film was not actually a true story. That said, I feel that it’s important to shock people with the worst case ramifications of ignoring injustice. I think the films “inspired by a true story” (not “based on…” as you incorrectly noted) is appropriate.

    • Victoria says:

      Thank you Howard. I was absolutely shocked to read this blog. I just watched the film, there is no claim it is based on a true story and only a truthful “inspired by”. Wikipedia gives the full story (a very simple google search tells this). I am also appalled at the language used in this blog in relation to people with disabilities. Cody Clark, you should feel ashamed. But I know you won’t, with a blog name Smug Films.

  6. Henrik says:

    I think the dubious use of ‘inspired on a true story’ is my main issue.

    The tag lines on many exploitation films have used the same conceit Wes Craven’s ‘Last gouse on the left’ used this as did ‘I spit on your grave’ and many others.

    I have just finished watching the film and said to my partner during (in the scene when they are frolicking on the beach shooting some 8mm home movies) that this is going to take a very dark turn, I was unsure where but I saw a brutally downbeat ending on the way. After such a unintentionally comedic scene I didn’t see where else it could do, the saccharine was dripping from the screen. Having said that I did not want the film to take the turn it did.

    In the same manner as Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Great Silence’ I sat there trying to wish the end away.
    However uncompromising, unfair and downright mean spirited the conclusion may be it is the choice of the screenwriter and director to follow that path.

    I am not a fan of cinema that sends people skipping out the cinema hand in hand with birds twittering around their heads in ecstasy, but a marriage between a hard cold fact and artistic licence can sometimes be very welcome.
    I was not expecting a clean cut and happy ‘leave it to beaver’ resolution but the glib way I felt the film dismissed the end and the way in which it seemed hastily tagged on left a bitter taste in my mouth.

    Giving the character ‘Marco’ a lighter ending could have showed more balls than the one that we were shown, but would that have made the film more memorable? I doubt it.

  7. Rosie says:

    Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, however, the story behind the film is based more on a true story than you might think. The first gay couple to adopt in California, Wayne LaRue Smith and Dan Skahen, heard about the then potential film and found the story remarkablily similar to theirs and contacted the director, “Smith and Skahen met with director Travis Fine and, along with Miami attorney Steven Kozlowski, co-produced the movie Any Day Now,”

    See for yourselves… http://miamiherald.typepad.com/gaysouthflorida/2013/01/gay-adoption-film-any-day-now-mirrors-case-of-key-west-foster-fathers.html

  8. Tess says:

    Many of your comments regarding those who are mentally challenged are incredibly degrading. Wow, I’m disgusted.

  9. Terry says:

    I don’t think a run-of-the-mill marketing strategy is enough to dismiss this movie altogether. For the record, I haven’t seen it – I’m just browsing the reviews to gauge whether or not I should bother checking it out. If the film’s relatively positive reception hinged on what you refer to as its “deceit”, then the bone you have to pick might have more meat on it. It seems to me critically immature that a detail of the movie’s promotion can for you render it void of all other merit. The deception really doesn’t seem extravagant, duplicitous or consequential enough to warrant boycotting. Pointing it out is fair enough, but as I said this “deceit” is so standard. I would wager that most moviegoers tend to be sceptical of the veracity of “true stories” anyway. Needless to say this doesn’t vindicate anything. But when it comes to a toss up between decrying a common, transparently questionable marketing ploy and encouraging people to give “gay movies” more of a chance – especially when they look above average, like this one – well, I guess I feel the latter’s more important.

    Also, Tess is right. Your references to people with disabilities show an offensive lack of sensitivity – subject matter one might expect you handle better seeing as how curious you are in how movies handle it themselves.

  10. Charli R. says:

    If you took one second to look up the film on Wikipedia, you’d know that it wasn’t “based” on a true story but “inspired” by one. This is a very important distinction. “The screenplay for Any Day Now was inspired by a true story – not based on a true story. I wrote the original script 30 years ago. A friend of mine in NY introduced me to a gay man named Rudy. Rudy lived on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn. At that time, Atlantic Ave was pretty rundown. It has been gentrified since then. Rudy lived in a tiny apartment and had very little money. He befriended a 12-year-old boy who lived a few blocks away. The boy had been abandoned by his druggie/prostitute mother, and lived with his grandmother. The grandmother didn’t do much to provide for the boy, who didn’t speak. I’m guessing he was Autistic, but there was no money to do anything about it. Rudy would bring the boy to his apartment, see to it that he was properly clothed and fed, and he did what he could to get him into school. He practically raised him. That is where reality ended and my writer’s imagination took over. After spending time with Rudy and the boy, I got to wondering what would happen if Rudy decided to adopt him. I did my research and spoke to a number of people about the problems a gay man would have adopting a boy. Remember, this was 1980. The times were a lot different then, although we still have a long way to go. Several months later I had a screenplay.” A real journalist does their research. You’re an idiot who doesn’t understand how writing works. You can be inspired by something but not have it be based on anything. Is “Any Day Now” supposed to be a piece of nonfiction? No. It never was. The characters are entirely imaginary, which you would know if you actually took your “journalism” seriously and did your research. As a journalist myself, I’m appalled by your negligence. You’re the type of writer who gives journalists a bad name, making false accusations without any evidence.

    • Charli R. says:

      Looking back at your article, it looks that you did actually read that anecdote. My apologies for skimming your article that I found out of line. Regardless, “based on” and “inspired by” are two very different things and to accuse the writers of deceit just plain isn’t fair. There was never anything during the film that implied it was based on or inspired by a true story. I didn’t know until the movie was over and I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it just felt too real to be just a movie. Stories have the most resonance when they’re rooted from something real, which this was, however small that might be.

      And the way you refer to Marco as simply a plot device, is disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself. We don’t need anymore ablism in this world, buddy.

  11. Genevieve Roberts says:

    You coined and used “tardsploitation” and you feel you have credentials to review this movie? You don’t have credentials to be a human being.

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