Eric D. Snider

Humpday

Movie Review

Humpday

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: A-

Released: July 10, 2009

 

Directed by:

Cast:

There isn't a false moment anywhere in "Humpday," not in the writing, the directing, the performances, or the dynamics of the characters' relationships. What's especially impressive about this is that the story presents a few unlikely scenarios that nonetheless come across as believably as everything else. You buy every minute of it, even the part where two completely heterosexual best friends decide to make a sex tape.

Behind that provocative premise is a comedy that's consistently funny, as well as genuinely insightful about the way men relate to one another. It may sound like nothing more than the gay version of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," but for one thing, it's not gay. It's something else altogether. "Zack and Miri" started with its salacious idea and worked backward from there to come up with a story to surround it; "Humpday" feels like it started with questions about the nature of masculine friendships and arrived at the friends-make-sex-tape element as the result of those questions.

The friends are Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard). Ben is recently and quite happily married to Anna (Alycia Delmore), has a grown-up job, and is a productive member of society. He and Anna are talking about having kids. They have a cute house in Seattle. Andrew, Ben's old college friend, is one of those freewheeling artsy types who have no regular source of income and live from one bacchanal to the next, the type of guy who might, as Andrew does, show up at your house at 2 a.m. unannounced. "That's classic Andrew" is Ben's best explanation.

Also an example of classic Andrew is meeting a girl at a coffee shop in the afternoon and being a central figure at a house party she's hosting that same night. The Pacific Northwest is full of people like this: polyamorous, anything-goes hipsters who celebrate Art and Truth and marijuana (at the very least). Andrew is at home among them. Ben stops by for a bit, embarrassed to be wearing a necktie (he came straight from work), intoxicated by the brief blast of hedonism that he's not at liberty to enjoy much anymore. The house has a sign on the front door that says "Dionysus" -- "and they're not kidding," Ben tells Anna when he calls home to check in.

It's during this party, after a lot of alcohol and weed have been ingested, that the topic of Seattle's do-it-yourself-porn film festival arises. Ben and Andrew decide -- and it's quite something how organically the conversation arrives at this, like it happened accidentally over the course of two actors improvising a scene -- that the ultimate artistic statement would be if they, two straight but loving friends, had sex on camera.

It's a joke at first (Ben calls information to get the number for the "Bonin' Hotel"), and they feel differently once they sober up. But the topic has made Ben start thinking about deeper issues, like wanting to prove he's not as hopelessly "white picket fence" (i.e., dull) as Andrew thinks he's is. For his part, Andrew wants to actually finish an art project, which he's never done before. It's not about the sex -- there is nothing erotic or romantic about it for either man -- but it's about Something Else.

The film, which was written and directed by Lynn Shelton (who also plays one of the women at the house party), has the aesthetics of a Mumblecore film -- ad-libby dialogue, hand-held cameras, Mark Duplass, etc. -- but with more discipline and less meandering than is usually evident in those films. It also has farcical situations -- wrong impressions, double entendres, and so forth -- but portrays them realistically, without exaggeration. The scenes of Ben trying to tell Anna about the project, and Anna and Andrew discussing it over a bottle of Scotch, are priceless for that very reason: On paper, these circumstances sound borrowed from an episode of "Three's Company," yet the film never goes over-the-top or silly.

Male viewers are bound to recognize themselves here and there. If it's not in the way Ben and Andrew's project becomes a matter of pride (both want to chicken out, but neither wants to be the one to veto it), then maybe it will be in the way they can move from deep emotions to wise-cracking and back again in a 10-second span of conversation.

Whether or not they actually go through with it is almost beside the point, ultimately, because it was never about the sex anyway. It's about friendship, male bonding, platonic love, and society's concept of masculinity. I think one line from Ben sums it up perfectly: "I think we might be morons." Yes, probably. Human, believable, lovable morons.

Grade: A-

Rated R, a lot of harsh profanity, brief strong sexuality, some nudity

1 hr., 32 min.

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This item has 15 comments

  1. Tom says:

    False note is in entire premise as far as I can see because no two straight young guys (or even one of two young straight guys) would endeavor, or even think of endeavoring, to make a gay porn movie for one micro-second. However, all advance glowing reviews I've read tell me I'm wrong, or perhaps I'm missing some key plot point, so I'll definitely keep an open mind when it opens. Also, unless premise as I understand it is kept as a state secret and seeing there are no name actors (or actresses) in cast, this film's hopes of any kind of box office are really, really grim.

  2. Eric D. Snider says:

    False note is in entire premise as far as I can see, without actually seeing the movie, or even reading the review very carefully.

    I fixed that for you.

  3. tom says:

    Did. Still seems suspiciously false. See "Boys In The Band".

  4. jorgeC says:

    Hmmm...a movie which manipulates the circumstances to the point where two straight guys consider having sex. Sounds like a straight forward cheesy gay fantasy, so of course Hollywood must rave about it. To do otherwise would make one--wait for it--HOMOPHOBIC!

  5. Eric says:

    #4: So it's not possible people are raving about the movie because they actually think it's a good movie?

  6. Clumpy says:

    People like jorge who think that Hollywood automatically bankrolls and lauds anything they see as smuttily "progressive" might want to study their film history.

  7. OMAllen says:

    Wow, Eric is really defending this review in the comments... might it be because he is ga... nah... he is probably just bored.

  8. Eric says:

    See, I know you're joking, but that's the thing -- the movie has nothing to do with gay or not gay. It's about straight masculinity in the touchy-feely 21st century. I try not to get annoyed when people rip on a film without having seen it, or when people just say something blatantly stupid (#4), but I feel like this small indie film needs people to stick up for it. Viva la Humpday!

  9. Daryn says:

    I saw the movie, and it's GREAT. To all those who are dubious - I AGREE the premise SOUNDS false and gimmicky. So much so that I originally had no interest in seeing the movie until it was strongly endorsed to me by credible sources.

    The movie is hilarious, and portrays the feelings, friendships, and relationships between men (and men and women) as authentically as anything I've seen in many years. The fact that it can take such an unlikely (and yes, unrealistic) premise and make it seem so authentic and true only further impressed me. I'm not gay or homophobic, but really, that doesn't matter. This movie does not play to homosexuals, heterosexuals, or "homophobes." It plays to people who love intelligent storytelling with well drawn characters and relationships.

    And it's also for people who enjoy movies that are very, VERY funny.

    As one character in the movie put it: "It's not gay. It's beyond gay."

  10. Daryn says:

    I spoke to Lynn Shelton, the director of Humpday, at Sundance (pardon my name-dropping) and she was kind of enough to share with me some of the process of how they made the film and how much money was spent. And I can tell you that what she produced with very, very little money and resources is nothing short of inspiring

    Without going into detail, she made a great movie without having the luxury of throwing any money at it, and got a distribution deal with no "bankable" actors. Humpday is a shining example of what has been said over and over: great storytelling, acting, and improvisation make a movie better than any mount of money ever could. And the more people that see this movie, the better chances that the world will get more movies like it.

    See this movie because you'll enjoy it. Support this movie because it's the right thing to do.

  11. Nate says:

    How is supporting this or any movie the right thing to do? I don't mean to be disrespectful or snarky, I'm just confused by the statement.

  12. cheezedawg says:

    Oddly enough, the strong pressure sale from Daryn and Eric in the comments here have turned me off from wanting to see it after reading Eric's glowing review. Its the "right thing to do" to support a frickin movie? Whatever.

  13. Daryn says:

    cheezedawg: Two people strongly endorsing a movie turned you off from it? Huh, ok. I normally get turned off from movies when people tell me awful things about it, as opposed to great things. But that's me.

    As to the "right thing to do." I made that comment lightly and had no idea it would confuse (Nate) or offend (cheezedawg) anyone. Allow me to explain. It's very hard to write an original movie. It's even harder to make that script funny and compelling. And then it's much harder to get it made. And to get it made well is an extraordinary challenge. The fact that it happens at all is almost astounding. But... to accomplish all of that with almost no money and no marketable actors is feat worthy of my respect. And then.... to actually get that movie distributed into theaters, with zero marketable talent, is almost as extraordinary as it is rare.

    Year after year, studios pump tons to money into making movies (some great, some awful, many inbetween). But rarely do relatively unknown filmmakers - normal people with vision and talent - get the opportunity to produce anything that will reach theaters and audiences. After all, all they have going for them is talent, passion, and vision. And in the world of film, that is sadly and all to often not enough.

    However, the more money films like that make, the more likely distributors will be to support and take chances on unique films with talented casts and fresh stories as opposed to simply sticking with more generic fair.

    So, when I said supporting this movie is "the right thing to do," what I meant was this:

    If you enjoy independent films, you should support movies like Humpday. If you would like to see more movies made that are original, funny and different than typical studio films, then you should support movies like Humpday. If you wish more talented, unknown filmmakers and actors had the chance to create things new and original, well... refer to above. The more people that support good independent films, the more likely more will be more good independent films made.

    If you have no interest in good, independent movies, and feel the world would be better off without them showing up in theaters, then not supporting movies like Humpday would be your best strategy.

    And if you decide to not see movies because people tell you how good they are... well, then I can't help you. You likely have an issue running deeper than a movie endorsement.

  14. Dave says:

    Daryn's response was awesome. AWESOME!

    I'm surprised but this sounds like a great movie. Thanks for the review. Coming, as it did, from someone I feel would never endorse prurience is very meaningful.

  15. Tim says:

    I’m sure the movie is great & I’ll rent it if I ever get the chance, but the thing about every straight guy I’ve ever known who has voluntarily had sex with another straight guys is, THEY’RE ALL GAY. Every one of them.

    Maybe they seemed like straight guys who were just “curious”, but nope! Turns out they gay the whole time.

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