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Dustin Putman

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Humpday  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Lynn Shelton.
Cast: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard.
2009 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 16, 2009.
Directed by Lynn Shelton and technically written by no one, "Humpday" was shot using a pre-planned central narrative thread and a lot of improvisation. There was no script, and yet, funnily enough, the dialogue and performances are typically a whole lot snappier and truthful than the majority of Hollywood comedies. In a day and age when multimillion-dollar extravaganzas are penned by well-paid committees, only for the finished product to appear so sloppy and desperate it doesn't seem like a moment's thought was put into it, here is a warm and usually winning shoestring-budgeted effort that proves money does not equate to real talent.

Falling safely within the mumblecore film movement, "Humpday" is not quite as sharply devised as 2008's genre-bending "Baghead," but has the same kind of easy, relatable, slice-of-life allurement. The premise is a catchy one, but it is the interpersonal relationships between friends and lovers and the underlying suggestions of who these people are and why they act the way they do that director Lynn Shelton is more interested in. Thus, while the plotting may catch one's attention going in—two straight male friends in their early thirties, happily married transportation planner Ben (Mark Duplass) and adventurous vagabond Andrew (Joshua Leonard), drunkenly plan to make an amateur porn film together for the annual Seattle-based Humpfest and then must decide whether to go through with it on the clearer side of morning—it is used as the jumping-off point for a deeper exploration into the varied shades that make up who a person is and what they want out of life.

"Humpday" opens with a bedroom scene between Ben and wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) that defies expectations to become something startling—an intimate, frank, amusingly honest look at the nighttime back-and-forth between loving yet comfortable partners. As cinematic spectators, we sometimes get so used to the fantasy of onscreen romance that we forget, until we look at our own lives, what it is really like. "Humpday," as with the recent "Away We Go," corrects this deficiency, and then segues into the introduction of Andrew, a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type who shows up on their doorstep at two o'clock in the morning. As played by Joshua Leonard (1999's "The Blair Witch Project"), Andrew is an over-caffeinated loose cannon whose abrasiveness, at least at first, threatens to annoy. He eventually simmers down, however, as he starts to self-reflect on his lack of direction and his inability to ever finish anything he starts.

Ben, by comparison, has a job, a home, and a wonderful wife, but also feels as if he is letting too many opportunities and experiences pass him by. In an eye-opening scene that places a newfound perspective on why he is adamant in going through with the porno with Andrew, he tells of a video store clerk he once started to like and then fantasize about—the only same-sex crush he has ever had. Ben is probably not gay, but this story of his past does help to inform why he feels compelled to go through with it. When Anna inevitably finds out about his peculiar plans with Andrew, her initial confrontation with Ben is filled with an outwardly restrained anger and confusion that stings. Later, when she is calmer, the two of them have a much-needed conversation where truths are spoken on both sides and Anna makes a surprisingly selfless gesture. It is a lovely scene—the best in the film—and newcomer Alycia Delmore is extraordinarily natural and sympathetic as the headstrong if vulnerable Anna. Not to be overlooked, Mark Duplass (writer-director of "Baghead"), as Ben, proves to be as assured an actor as he is a filmmaker.

The final act, set in the hotel room where Ben and Andrew have planned to shoot their "art piece," is drawn out enough that it becomes as uncomfortable for the viewer as it does for the parties involved. As the two of them take slow steps toward consummation—kissing; taking off their clothes; hugging in their boxers—their actions are peppered with accurate stereotypes of the straight male machismo—grunting; playfully pounding on each other; nervous small talk—that are stereotypes for a reason. Do Ben and Andrew do the deed? That will be for the viewer to find out, though it should be said that mild disappointment with the chosen outcome quickly dissipates the more one ponders what director Lynn Shelton is trying to say with her ending. No person, no matter what their sexual orientation is, can choose to be anyone other than themselves. If more people actually faced up to this acknowledgment, societal pressures would lessen and there wouldn't be so many narrow-minded prejudices to still overcome. While "Humpday" doesn't add up to a staggering amount, and isn't always focused—a game of shooting hoops goes on for way too long around the forty-five-minute mark—the film is nonetheless perceptive and thematically viable, so much more astute about bromances than the grossly overrated "I Love You, Man" that it's not even funny. Only here, it is.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman