The comparisons to Kevin Smith will be inevitable, especially considering the points of convergence between Zack & Miri Make a Porno and Humpday: they’re both talky comedies about two best friends get together to make a porn movie. The difference is that in Humpday the friends are straight men (you could almost call this film Zack & Mickey Make a Porno). The other difference is that Humpday is solidly excellent throughout.
There’s going to be some argument about whether or not Humpday is a mumblecore movie; if it had premiered at SXSW in the mumblecore heyday of two or three years ago there’d be no question. But today, as the subgenre falls out of favor, it seems likely that the film’s evangelists will deny the mumblecore aspect, despite starring mumblecore godfather Mark Duplass and being written and directed by a filmmaker with some connections to the mumblecore scene. If anything, I think Humpday is part of the maturing of mumblecore. The film reminded me of Baghead, one of the films directed by Duplass – a mainstream enough concept wrapped up in an indie aesthetic.
In Humpday Duplass plays a guy with a a well-paying but seemingly dull career and a loving wife with whom he’s trying to have a child. His old college buddy, played by Joshua Leonard (of Blair Witch fame), suddenly shows up at the house at two in the morning, recently flown in from an art project with indigenous people in southernmost Mexico. Where Duplass’ character has settled down, Leonard’s character keeps living the bohemian, inspired by Kerouac life they both fantasized about a decade before. And of course with him comes trouble.
To avoid recapping the whole story the two buddies drunkenly decide to make a porn film together for a local, arty porn festival. The artistic hook is that it’s two straight guys boning. When they sober up their competitive nature and broham machoness leads them to keep pushing foward inexorably towards a date with a hotel room, lube and a video camera.
How mainstream is this? I don’t think you’d have to change a scene to make this a Paul Rudd/Jason Segel buddy comedy in the vein of I Love You, Man. A mainstream comedy might go bigger with the jokes than Humpday does, but that’s actually part of the film’s charm – it’s a real life version of a Judd Apatow movie (which we’re usually saying are more real life than the standard Hollywood comedy pablum). The details all feel right, and the reality of the world and the characters helps ground the broadness of the central conceit. The movie really gets the minutia of male bonding and the strange inherent sexuality that comes with it, and what’s most amazing is that the writer and director is a woman. Lynn Shelton nails the relationships between men in ways that few filmmakers ever have before, aided immeasurably by the chemistry between Duplass and Leonard.
I’m a big fan of Mark Duplass, both as a filmmaker and an actor. Looking at his career so far I feel like he could be a modern day Woody Allen. That’s not a comparison of filmmaking style or theme (or acting range) but rather a reflection that, like Allen, works equally well in front of and behind the camera. Joshua Leonard makes quite the comeback here, creating a character who doesn’t succumb to the usual cliches of the ‘bad influence friend’ and who has internal layers but who is also a lot of fun to spend time with and never gets annoying. The third lead is the endlessly adorable Alycia Delmore as the wife, a character that until the third act feels sort of half baked. If there’s one mistake that Shelton makes with Humpday it’s keeping us at arm’s length from the wife for the first two acts and making us think that she’s a big, irritating square. That’s completely not the case, and Shelton and Delmore pull it off in the end, but for me the lack of characterization was dicey going for a while.
If Moon is the kind of scifi film I wish studios made more often, Humpday is the kind of comedy I wish audiences would go for more often. Small but not slight, completely hilarious without sacrificing brains, Humpday shows that indie movie don’t have to be just black and white meditations on gay outcasts. Sometimes they can be full color meditations on two straight guys attempting to buttfuck for the cameras.
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