Written and directed by Lynn Shelton
Starring Mark Duplass,
Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
and Lynn Shelton
Goes well with: The Puffy Chair; Funny Ha-Ha; I Love You, Man
Everyone knows that all it takes to ruin a great friendship is a little sex. Usually, it's because one friend has always secretly wanted to do the other, and the other half of the relationship has had a lot to drink, is emotionally vulnerable or, sometimes, both. Now, that's not exactly the way things go down in Humpday, the new film from Lynn Shelton, but it is all about friendship and the way men deal with each other when sex is on the line. That said, Humpday is not a bromance—it has much more in common with mumblecore than, say, I Love You, Man, although it definitely shares traits with both.
Ben (Mark Duplass) is a regular guy. He lives in Seattle with his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore), and the two have good jobs and own a home and are thinking about having kids. He's a cool enough guy, because, remember, regular guys can still be cool (at least that's what I've been telling myself all these years), and he likes his life just fine, until his old pal Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up one night, unannounced, needing a place to crash. Andrew's an artist, a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants heathen with no real roots, always looking for a warm bed and a party. But they're longtime friends who just went down different paths since they left college.
The night after Andrew's arrival, Ben finds himself drunk at a party and arguing with his friend about whether or not he would have the stones to shoot a gay amateur porn video to enter into an annual festival thrown by The Stranger, a Seattle alt-weekly. Next thing they know, they've booked a hotel room. Now all Ben need to do is figure out why this is something he feels he needs to do, and, oh yeah, tell his wife. Once those tasks are out of the way, suddenly Ben and Andrew are in the hotel room with the camera running, wondering what the fuck it is that they're up to.
Here's the thing: I'm a straight guy. I have straight guy friends. And I know that even though Ben and Andrew can't believe they're about to get busy with each other, on camera, my own life experience tells me it'd never happen. The conversation just wouldn't go in that direction, let alone go as far as it does. That doesn't mean that we're homophobes—no, we're all solidly progressive, no-on-Prop. 8, some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay lefties. It's just that we're, well, straight guys (and, by all means, guys, feel free to disagree). But director Lynn Shelton—who plays a tarty bi-girl in the film—still offers up a compelling examination of the male psyche. Yes, that makes it sound deadly serious, but it's not. Actually, Humpday is awkward and fun, brought forth by all three lead actors through dialogue that's mostly unscripted. Duplass, who has been involved with several of the big mumblecore movies, like The Puffy Chair and Hannah Takes the Stairs, has an easy way about him, and he does a terrific job of being unenthusiastically introspective.
See, Humpday works when you realize that it isn't really about sex. Shelton has a decent grasp on what guys are like, and the reason Ben and Andrew end up in a hotel room together to make gay porn has almost nothing to do with machismo, even though it does have everything to do with proving something. In Andrew, Ben sees all the things he gave up when he became a married, 9-to-5 man, and he feels pressured and judged for being kind of a straight arrow (even though, you know, he's still cool). And Andrew, the freewheeling artist, needs to make sure he's actually capable of being the wild and crazy guy that he projects. Even though Shelton suggests that these guys—and, by extension, most guys—are fairly simple creatures, she never advocates for their behavior. Why? Because like any stunt designed to prove something, it's a bad idea.
For some guys, it's buying a sports car. For others, it seems, it's making gay porn in a hotel room.