You may have noticed that I frequently have a little moan about the dwindling number of premiers on the Sky Movie Channels each week and more particularly about the quality of the now usually four titles that are offered. I often wonder where on earth they have located some of the dreary 'straight-to-video' (as they used to be called) movies they present, together with their sprinkling of useless television movies. I have concluded that they acquire these in bulk from distributors as their penance for trying to book their weekly 'blockbuster'.
However, every so often, a gem appears amongst the dross, as is the case with the above title. On paper the film seemed to have absolutely nothing going for it, since who would go out of their way to view a movie about a camp drag queen getting his uncloseted lawyer boyfriend to help gain custody of a teenaged Down's syndrome boy who has been abandoned by his druggie mother? The on-paper lack of appeal for this offering was compounded by it being something of a vanity piece for its lead, Alan Cumming, an actor so affected and fey, that he is usually a hard watch. I first noticed him in the Ireland-set drama "Circle of Friends" in 1995 and he has been 'Annoying-for-Britain' ever since. However, he is absolutely terrific in this film.
He plays Rudy, part of a trio of lip-synching drag artists, in a gay pub in West Los Angeles back in 1979. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, always behind in the rent for his sleazy apartment, with dreams of becoming a proper vocal artist. Next door lives 14-year old Marco, with his feckless mother who probably does love her handicapped son, but who loves her drugs more. When she's arrested for possession, Rudy bonds with the lad (a wonderful first performance from young Isaac Leyva) and seeks advice from his new lover -- a yuppie lawyer in the DA's Office. He's told that Child Services are responsible for the boy, and they do indeed take away poor Marco; however he wanders off from his new foster home and back to Rudy. Moving into his boyfriend's more salubrious flat, they get a signature from the boy's mother now sentenced to a three-year stretch, and apply for temporary custody from the court, using the fiction that they are cousins.
Under their loving care as they both warm to the boy, Marco begins to blossom, although still severely limited by his condition. They get him glasses to correct his faulty eyesight and find a suitable school for him. However tongues begin to waggle and soon the busybodies of this world are out to expose the shame of two homosexuals raising a susceptible child. Remember this was 1979! They end up back in court with a fiery black attorney -- more respectable white lawyers have refused to represent them, but find themselves with an uphill battle. Despite a child psychologist testifying that the boy would be best off with the pair and despite the judge recognising their sincere love for the boy -- the law is the law and they perjured themselves at the first hearing. They continue to appeal until their main nemesis -- the lawyer's former boss (he has of course been sacked in the meantime) does a deal to get the mother released from prison and to resume Marco's custody.
Parenthetically the DA is played by the little-known actor Chris Mulkey who first registered on my radar with "Patti Rocks" in 1988 and the great TV series "Twin Peaks" in 1990. He's been a busy fellow over the years and I noticed him within the last fortnight when he turned up playing Monroe's father in "Grimm" (one of several serials I follow on television nowadays) and as a cop in 1982's "First Blood" which I decided to re-watch a few days ago. Other than him the cast is generally made up of unknowns to me, including one dishy Garret Dillahunt as the lawyer-lover, with the exception of Frances Fisher as the first judge and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo from Michael Nouri.
Never mind, Cumming and Leyva are the whole show here, and Cumming even manages to showcase his formidable vocal talent with a moving rendition of "Love Don't Live Here Anymore". It's the sort of movie where you think the ending will be 100% predictable, but where you couldn't be more off-track. In the closing minutes, we hear extracts of a letter that Dillahunt has written to many of the characters encountered along the way. He describes Marco as sweet, smart, and funny, with a smile that could light up the room, and the world's greatest disco dancer. He says that the kid loved junk food and that chocolate doughnuts were his drug of choice. He adds that Marco enjoyed a bedtime story each night, but insisted that it have a happy ending. Marco loved a happy ending! But that's not what happened here....
The film did receive a brief release to a selected few cinemas, but then dropped out of sight, which is why no doubt it ended up on Sky's list of orphan-films, dumped on them as part of a package. However in this instance I was delighted to find it in their schedules and would recommend seeking it out, if you can. Just take a big box of tissues!