A take-no-prisoners performance by Alan Cumming, along with an ending that eschews the usual phony uplift, elevates what might have been a typical exercise in socially conscious messaging into a more touching human drama. “Any Day Now” does have a point to make, and one can hardly argue that it makes it subtly; but primarily because of Cumming, it carries a ring of truth as well.

The actor, often employed in pixie roles, plays Rudy Donatello, the headliner in a drag singing act in a seventies Los Angeles gay bar. Tough-talking but sensitive, one night he picks up a sad-sack patron named Paul (Garrett Dillahunt), who turns out to be a closeted Assistant DA. And though they soon have a run-in with a bigoted cop who pulls his gun on them, Paul talks his way out of the mess, and they become, if not an item, friends.

Cut to Rudy’s run-down apartment building, where his neighbor Marianna (Jamie Annie Allman), a drug addict, has been arrested, leaving her Down’s syndrome son Marco (Isaac Leyva) alone after he escapes the social worker who’d put him in the system. Without much thought for the consequences, Rudy takes the boy in and enlists Paul to help him keep the youngster, with whom he quickly develops a rapport. Paul tells him that they’ll have a better chance to secure temporary custody if they do so jointly, leading Rudy and Marco to move in with the better-established lawyer. For a time the three form an unconventional family, though the men must conceal their sexual preferences from the authorities in order to remain an appropriate foster couple.

Eventually, however, their secret comes out, and their chance of gaining permanent custody of Marco becomes a very long shot, given the prejudices of the judicial system represented by a hard-line judge (Frances Fisher), a merciless prosecutor (Gregg Henry), and Paul’s boss (Chris Mulkey), who contrives to release Marianne from prison in order that she can reclaim her parental rights, despite her manifest unfitness. Despite the efforts of the canny lawyer (Don Franklin) Paul persuades to take up the case, Marco’s fate is sealed by the benighted attitudes of the time—and his mother’s inability to keep him safe.

“Any Day Now” could easily have gone off the rails into bathos, but it’s rescued by Cumming, who’s simply ferocious as Rudy, overcoming even the horror of a wig the character wears and delivering the musical numbers with his customary verve, and director Travis Fine, who sets it against a gritty, subdued backdrop that allows it to register while also keeping it grounded in reality. The rest of the cast—which also includes Kelli Williams as a supportive teacher—play things less theatrically, including Dillahunt, who gives Paul a spine beneath an apparently soft exterior, and young Leyva, whose final scene isn’t milked for tears as one might have expected.

The production values are modest but satisfactory, conveying a period feel without hammering home cliches, and Rachel Morrison’s camerawork brings a suitably dour look to the proceedings.

“Any Day Now” obviously has contemporary relevance, but it’s not simply a gloss on the issue of gay adoption that’s still being debated. By remaining first and foremost a story about well-drawn individuals, it dramatizes the subject more effectively than if it tried to turn it into a political statement.