REVIEW: Humpday [2009]

“We’ve removed the goalie”

I’m not really sure what to think of Lynn Shelton’s indie flick Humpday. I understand that the impetus of the whole endeavor is to show how someone’s own individuality cannot be buried deep down forever. When we decide to settle down and start a family—getting married, buying a house, having a baby, etc—there comes a point where you start to question your motivations, wondering if it’s what you truly want. Rather than make this film a conversation between spouses, sparked by whatever new or old thing is thrown into the mix, Shelton has decided to put caution to the wind and base it all around what is really a pretty crazy idea. In a drunken stupor, two old college friends come up with the brainstorm of submitting an amateur porn film to a local Seattle event called Humpfest. Ben has been relegated to subdued normalcy with his wife and white picket fence and Andrew has lived his life fast and wild in the art scene, yet still never becoming an ‘artist’. So, both carry insecurities with their current lot in life and both look at the other with a machismo attitude, ready to prove they are strong enough—man enough—to have sex together.

The premise itself borders, if not completely eclipses, the barrier of good taste or common decency. And this is the point at which I am torn on my thoughts of the whole. The actual point of it is something I can put my praise towards, showing an element of domestication that most films would gloss over, instead portraying either marital bliss or utter dysfunction. So, showing this lifestyle as the complex and difficult partnership it really is becomes a breathe of fresh air that I can get behind. However, by using this sex film to be created by two heterosexual men together as the catalyst for the kind of conversation and thinking going on rubs me as a bit exploitative. I want to hope that the idea isn’t to shock an audience, but that it is a creative way to induce the sort of topics and messages the filmmaker would like to get across. It is true that we are all frauds in one way or another. Whether it be pretending life is grand when there is some feeling of suppressing a piece of you to get there or telling people you are something that you’ve yet to prove is true, no one is exactly as they seem.

If the movie gets anything correct, it is showing the complexities of the human spirit. Mark Duplass is competent as Ben, coming across to the audience as a good guy who loves his wife, but secretly is wondering what his life could have been had he not settled down. He tells his friend that his marriage is so strong his wife would have no problem with him participating in a sex film, but yet he is too afraid to tell her, to take that risk he has never done his entire life. Even his wife Anna, played by Alycia Delmore, is trying her hardest to exceed preconceptions. This crazy college buddy of her husband’s arrives in the middle of the night, throwing her equilibrium off completely. Living in her world of bliss, she has Ben all to herself as they try to build a family. They even vocalize that they will make love the next day—that’s right, the title does not mean Wednesday—to be sure to take advantage of her ovulation schedule. She tries so hard to be the ‘cool’ wife to this friend that shows her how maybe the quietly reserved man she married had a more wild past; she is self-conscious to the point that she is absolutely elated when Andrew tells her he likes her as they are both buzzed on scotch.

My favorite character of the entire thing, though, is that of Joshua Leonard’s Andrew. Here is a man that loves the arts and lives a nomadic life going to exotic places and doing creative things. He is living the sort of life that allows him to meet open-minded people at a coffee shop and become close to them in the matter of minutes, never letting societal constraints of what’s proper get in the way. But is that really who he is or just what he wishes he could be; the image he projects to the public? Every time the opportunity presents itself to prove that he is what he preaches, something goes off in his mind to build a wall up that he is too scared to scale. Andrew needs this adventure with Ben to finally believe in himself, to finish something and conquer his fears. I guess, in this respect, the idea of that project being to have sex with his best friend makes some sort of sick sense. Originally set-up as a unique porn idea to win the festival, showing two men making love that are not gay, the whole thing spirals into an event not to be backed down from for risk of losing any and all self-respect. Here is something that scares them more than anything else; to walk away only proves how square and safe they are.

Even if the idea were looked upon as fresh and new rather than crazy and provocative, there are other issues with the film. I understand that the aesthetic is meant to be realistic and unscripted, but oftentimes the dialogue becomes too meandering, devolving to repetitive rambling that you can’t wait to end. The whole work might have succeeded so much better, in my mind, as a short film, excising some of the redundancies, paring it down to the bare essentials. There is a lot that I liked here, some moments really grabbing my attention and proving how ineffective other sequences were. I absolutely loved the scene at the dining room table between Delmore and Leonard, drinking scotch and bonding on a personal and real level. It culminates in a massive nuclear explosion that I believe shows the best acting work from the trio. There was too little of that, however, and instead much more moments like the final scene in the hotel room. Not only does the idea of these two men having sex come across as ridiculous, but they are so awkward and talkative—I guess relevant and true to life, sure—that I became overly embarrassed and weirded out myself. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted them to get over the hump and be stronger people as a result or to wake up and realize what they could be losing, especially Ben, if they go through with it. Humpday is making a few end of year lists, and for the idea of it all I can see why. I’m just not sure the final project warrants that much praise.

Humpday 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in HUMPDAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Alycia Delmore in HUMPDAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Photo credit: Ted Speaker.

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