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Humpday is a movie more awkward and squirm-inducing than Brüno. Who would have thought it possible, let alone come so soon on the heels of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest spawn? The similarities between the films are numerous: Both include hotel rooms, cameras and gay sex; both feature a variety of dildos; and both are contrived to ridiculous proportions in an attempt to make a larger statement.
Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Humpday tells the story of two straight men who decide making a porn film together is going to be a wonderful and edgy work of art. They’re inspired by Humpfest, the film’s fictional take on a real-life amateur porn film festival held annually by The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative paper. What starts as a drunken brainstorm during a night of debauchery slowly becomes a reality for the two hetero guys.
Andrew (Joshua Leonard) and Ben (Mark Duplass) are a case of opposites attract — or rather how childhood friends can grow in different directions. Andrew is the wandering spirit, the kind of friend who will show up unannounced on your doorstep at 2 a.m. and think that a carved wooden duck will make it acceptable. Ben is the married, comfortably softened friend who opens the door when adventurous Andrew knocks. And then there’s Anna (Alycia Delmore), the understanding wife who gets caught in the middle.
Andrew and Ben do have one thing right, a video of two straight men having sex is going to pique some people’s interest (there is more than one Web site out there that specializes in just that). But Humpday is less about the sex and more about the idea. The real theory that Shelton is trying to explore is what are the boundaries that people set for themselves and what does it take to break through them? She creates a ridiculous setup to dissect this theme, and given the amount of time spent justifying the plot points, proves that even she might realize it’s a stretch. Getting the guys to the “gay for a day” decision is a circuitous, mostly-verbal route that is more convoluted than a Sarah Palin press conference.
Yet somehow, in some ways, the film works. Its success rests in the script and the actors much more than in the concept. For example, the opening scene finds Ben and Anna lying in bed about to initiate sex when Anna finally admits to being too tired. Their laughter and mutual relief is so decidedly different and more natural than most on-screen couplings, it feels more like reality TV than film. This interplay between the two doesn’t carry through in every scene, but the moments that work are the most natural — and awkward. Because as outrageous as Brüno may be, it’s nothing compared to watching a husband try to explain to his wife why he needs to have sex with his male best friend… and film it.
As that married man who has to somehow convince his wife that starring in male-on-male porn is fine, Duplass has the toughest role in the film. And director Shelton makes sure that Ben says all the wrong things. That there is any sort of affection felt for Andrew is a testament to Duplass’ performance. Leonard has an easier time with Ben, as he hides behind a Sasquatch-like beard bellowing out a laugh that sounds like machine gun fire. Playing a lost soul, Leonard lets little glimpses of the conflicted Ben peak through the bohemian exterior every so often.
But the guys really pale in comparison to Delmore as Anna. She’s tough, understanding, hurt, and angry all at once. It’s a pleasure to watch her navigate troubled waters and even if Anna’s responses are a little too “go with the flow,” Delmore sells it.
Shelton’s script is both inspired and exhausting. Some of the double entendres she slips into the dialogue are outrageous. They’re subtle enough to fly over the heads of many, but once you clue into what she’s doing, you’re going to be one of the few laughing during the most serious scenes. It’s the slight nod that Shelton gives to her audience that makes it clear she’s not taking herself too seriously. However, the amount of time Andrew and Ben have to spend arriving at their decision is a verbal debate that goes on far too long.
One can certainly spend hours after the film debating the true motivations of Andrew and Ben (Is one gay? Are they really just that close?), all influenced by whether the film ends with a money shot or blue balls. Ultimately, that’s not the point of Shelton’s story, but, like porn, sometimes the plot gets lost in the all screwing around.