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Movie Review: Humpday

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Writer-director Lynn Shelton's Humpday takes the buddy comedy to its oft-implied, always unspoken, blindingly logical conclusion: the two buddies must have sex. I try to shy away from using the term "bromance," but the fact that all of these movies have been coined as such makes it obvious enough. These are movies that revolve around the central idea that their characters aren't just friends, they're falling into some sort of love, complete with awkward courtship. Look no further than the last scene of Superbad, with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill gazing longingly at each other as they both leave with their girl of choice, for an example of two heterosexual dudes who feel something just a little more than heterosexual for each other.

Perhaps it's "beyond gay," as the dudes in Humpday say, or perhaps I'm just reading too much into it. In any case, Humpday makes clear what the other movies bury in subtext. The buddies here are Ben (Mark Duplass), living the white picket fence life with wife Anna (Alycia Delmore); and Andrew (Joshua Leonard), who has taken a far different path, hiking in a dozen different countries and experimenting with half-baked art projects. One night, Andrew shows up on Ben and Anna's doorstep. He gives them a wooden duck as a gift, and asks if he can stay.

Andrew's arrival reawakens Ben's adventurous spirit, and at a party that looks akin to a hipster orgy, they learn of Humpfest, a local art-porn festival. Andrew decides he should enter, and eventually it is proposed that he and Ben have sex with each other on film. It starts as a joke, but quickly becomes serious, Ben and Andrew riveted by the fact that two straight men having sex could qualify as art. That it doesn't, and that this idea has a lot more to say about their sexuality and feelings for one another, isn't realized until later on, but Humpday takes an incisive look at male bonding and what it means to be a man.

The problem is that it's a mumblecore film. My only real exposure to the movement has been this and Joe Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs (also starring Duplass), but in both the conceit isn't so much naturalistic as it is restrictive. Humpday is quite a bit better than Hannah, but it has the same problem in that its unstructured, improvised nature can leave it feeling aimless. It's realistic, in a sense, but its dialogue drifts. There are some good lines ("You don't have to have a fuckin' hard-on to bungee jump," Andrew says when they're talking about facing their fears), but since the characters ramble about everything they're feeling at any given moment, the point of each scene is often spelled out for the viewer.

Which is not to say that it's an unimpressive production. Shelton has a clear visual sense, and the fact that she tackles the subject head-on is itself commendable. It's interesting that the bromance flick most honest about the meaning of its bromance was made by a woman, and I'm not sure what that says about the stunted growth of the men who make these types of movies. Without Shelton, there also wouldn't be Alycia Delmore as one of the more intriguing women in this genre, one who has complex feelings and emotions and isn't just there as a plot device (see: Rashida Jones amounting to little more than a third wheel in I Love You, Man).

But if you take away the mumblecore coating, the honest angle, and its slightly pretentious leaning, Humpday is as predictable as all the rest. The cop-out of an ending is inevitable, but I was really hoping that this being a balls-out indie, there would actually be some balls out. Instead, you get the ending that the Hollywood version would've given you, and probably with more laughs along the way. This is an interesting film from an interesting movement, but in both form and execution, it's only willing to go so far.

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About Arlo J. Wiley