- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

“Humpday” is the reductio ad absurdum of the recent spate of bromance movies — buddy comedies such as “I Love You, Man” and “Superbad” that examine male friendships that are, occasionally, uncomfortably close. It dares to ask what happens when a bromance evolves into a straight-up romance.

Ben (Mark Duplass) has a happy home life with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). The pair are perfectly bourgeois: holders of office jobs, owners of a house with a white picket fence, trying to conceive a child. Into this idyll crashes Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a would-be bohemian artist who has spent his post-college life traipsing around the world failing to finish anything he begins.

When Andrew shows up on Ben and Anna’s doorstep in the middle of the night, Ben is thrilled — he hasn’t seen his friend in years, only keeping track of his travels through the occasional postcard. Anna also is happy to see the wayward friend; she wants to learn more about her husband’s buddies.

She grows slightly less amused when Ben and Andrew disappear the next night to attend a party at a house nicknamed Dionysius; she grows even less so when she finds out that at said party the two dudes — both of whom are straight — decided to film themselves having sex as an art project to be submitted to the Humpfest porn festival.

Neither wants to back down after the deal is struck. Ben thinks Andrew has pegged him for a square, someone incapable of operating outside of the commonly accepted societal strictures. Andrew, meanwhile, has come to realize he’s more faux-bo than a real bohemian; he wants to do this to prove something to himself, not because of his relationship with Ben or for art’s sake.

In this way, “Humpday” is less about the blurring boundaries of male friendship than an examination of a classic alpha-male power struggle. It’s impossible to believe either man actually wants to have sex with the other.

Instead, they appear to be more interested in figuring out how far they can push things in order for the other guy to back down first. Setting this struggle within the world of the liberal artistic community gives it an extra freshness, if not the edgy transgressive quality some critics have assigned the picture: After all, Michael Mann has been examining alphas going toe to toe for years.

“Humpday” is very funny at times, drawing its humor from everyday situations and realistic relationships like the best of its brethren in the “mumblecore” genre. Mumblecore is the term that has come to describe the latest generation of super-low-budget indie flicks revolving around late-20s, early-30s hipsters and their relationships; previous examples of the form include last summer’s “Baghead” and 2005’s “The Puffy Chair.”

The aesthetic isn’t for everyone, though, and the haphazard hand-held shooting style adds to the feeling that the actors are stumbling through the film from line to line instead of really acting. It doesn’t feel as if the performances are infused with improvisational vitality so much as it feels a little lazy, as if director-writer Lynn Shelton didn’t want to bother shooting more than a take or two.

★★½

TITLE: “Humpday”

RATING: R (some strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use)

CREDITS: Directed and written by Lynn Shelton

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.humpdayfilm.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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