Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Lynn Shelton
Screenwriters: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
Humpday is a comedy about two straight male friends who decide to make an amateur porn film. Starring themselves. Having sex on camera. With each other.
It’s an attention-grabber of a premise, but the reality of Humpday is nothing like you probably imagine. Though it’s plenty raunchy, Lynn Shelton’s low-budget film has little in common with Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It’s not an R-rated sitcom. Instead, Humpday is a very human comedy with an absurdist bent. In the end, it’s not about porn, or even sex, but rather the tyranny of self-image.
Ben (“mumblecore” veteran Mark Duplass) has settled down. He’s married to a lovely, understanding woman (Alycia Delmore); they bought a house in the suburbs; they’re trying for a baby, though the film opens with the two of them cheerfully agreeing to put off their latest scheduled attempt until tomorrow. An unexpected knock on the door brings a houseguest: Ben’s childhood friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard). Andrew lives the life of a motorcylcle-riding, free-spirited Bohemian, having wandered back up north after some time working on uncertain, perpetually unfinished art projects in Mexico. Upon arrival, he immediately tries to get cozy with a random free-love lesbian couple he meets at a coffee shop. They’re his kind of people — or so he thinks.
Yes, Ben and Andrew ultimately decide to star in a porn video for Seattle’s “HUMP!” amateur porn festival. It starts out as a sort of mutual dare made at a party — a fleeting joke to the effect of, wouldn’t two straight best friends having sex on camera be an amazing, transgressive work of art? But then the idea, which everyone expected to disappear into the ether the next hungover morning, returns with a vengeance and begins to consume them. Neither will back down from his commitment to the project. And Ben will have to tell his wife.
This subject matter may sound like it would make for a tiresome quirkfest of a comedy. And indeed it might have, were it actually hung up on the details of Ben and Andrew making a porno. But it’s not about how, it’s about why. Why do these two very different guys latch on to this idea so fiercely, when, as they both admit, having sex with each other is pretty much the last thing they want to do?
Humpday suggests that both Ben and Andrew have something to prove to themselves: Ben that his marriage and white picket fence have not made him a hopeless square, and Andrew that he really is an open-minded free spirit. This — the way they see themselves — is maniacally important to them. And their proposed solution may not be plausible, exactly, but the desperation inherent in it makes a certain kind of sense.
The movie, with its breezy, largely improvised dialogue, and occasional (very funny) ventures into humilation comedy, is subtle about this, and doesn’t let on what it thinks about its characters until the heartbreaking final scene. I don’t want to give too much away, but consider what remains for each of the men when all is said and done. Humpday asks: when your elaborately maintained façade is stripped away from you, what will be left?
Though its loose, talky feel will likely annoy some people, I thought Humpday was terrific entertainment, with dead-on performances from all three leads. (Alycia Delmore, in particular, is a discovery in her feature debut.) It milks its edgy high concept for plenty of laughs, but it also does more. Shelton has made a touching, quietly disturbing comedy about the way our minds can take us prisoner.