Dir: Lynn Shelton
Though Humpday will probably have a hard time living down its conceit- two straight guy friends who decide to make a porno together for art’s sake- there is really much more to this film than the gay panic comedy most people will remember it for. Devoid of the gross-out gags of a Judd Apatow film, Humpday boils down the essence of what motivates men to be rooted husbands or drifting lotharios while keeping the sexual politics firmly not only between men and women, but same-sex pairings as well.
Mark Duplass plays Ben, a thirtysomething Seattle husband who works a steady job and is in the process of trying to impregnate his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). College friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard) makes a surprise visit and after a drunken night, the two decide to shoot a straight guy-on-straight guy porno for Seattle’s annual Humpfest, a competition for homemade porn. While the will-they-or-won’t-they question hovers over the film’s swift run time, director Lynn Shelton is more interested in the inner lives of the characters than the actual humping. Andrew pegs Ben for being a prudish square, mired with familial routines and not being open-minded enough to put aside heterosexual convention for the sake of art. But while Andrew’s own self-styled, free-wheeling lifestyle is called into question when he hooks up with an enclave of swingers, it’s Ben who seems more committed to the film.
Shelton wisely avoids clichés when Anna finds out about the film. Rather than use her as a wedge or a device to potentially block production as a lesser comedy would do, Shelton utilizes Anna to reveal that men aren’t the only ones afflicted with domestic doubt or longing outside of a marriage. It is a startling revelation for not only Ben, but for the audience that has been caught up in his indecision and fears.
Humpday covers much of the same terrain as Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy. Yet while Old Joy is an understated masterpiece of minimalism and wide-open space, Humpday takes the idea of male friendship and love and spins almost to the inverse. There are lines in most male friendships: touching is usually taboo and coming off as gay is an even scarier transgression. We always know where we are with Andrew and Ben, as much of Humpday’s improvised dialogue is more or less a non-stop ticker of emotional weather reporting, a deluge of rationalization, nervous babble and empty compliments such as, “I respect the fuck out of you.” In Old Joy, Reichardt achieved much more emotional resonance out of one aborted shoulder massage than the morass of discussion happening here.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Humpday is Shelton’s murky motivation for the porno film. Ben and Andrew spew off talk about “art projects” and knocking down boundaries, but the question of the porno seems more of a reason for Shelton to make a movie about making a movie than an actual impetus on the part of the characters to engage in such an activity. Ben’s monologue about falling in love with a male video store clerk felt unrealistic and when Andrew actually has a chance to screw two women, he passes. But why? There is a lot riding under the surface here and maybe if the characters, any of them, would just shut up for a moment and fuck, we would also have a moment to learn, just like in Old Joy, more about the characters than just what they are thinking.