Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard. Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard
I had hopes for Lynn Shelton’s Humpday—even after learning it was being lumped into the distressingly depressing category known as mumblecore, a classification that more or less means little or no budget and a good deal of meandering navel-gazing philosophizing by twentysomethings who are inarticulately dissatisfied with their ennui-infested lives. The high-concept premise had possibilities: Two long-separated, presumably straight best friends decide to enter a porn-film contest by filming themselves having sex with each other. And though some of the possibilities are at least flirted with, if not realized, the results waver between interesting and merely tedious, only to come up with the inevitable lemon of a resolution.
There’s really little more here than the premise. Ben (Mark Duplass) is a firmly middle-class (we’d have called him a yuppie 25 years ago) fellow married to the equally middle-class Anna (Alycia Delmore, who gives the best performance in the film). One night, who should arrive at 1:30 in the morning but Andrew (Joshua Leonard), Ben’s old college buddy, wanting to reconnect and find a place to stay. Ben is shocked, but not displeased. Anna is just shocked. The next day Andrew falls in with an artsy group of neo-Bohemians and manages to ensnare Ben into an evening of booze, pot and the big idea of making this “art” film of the two of them having sex. This is about the 30-minute mark. The next hour is devoted—one way and another—to the big question of will they go through with it? The completely contrived, clinical and totally unrealistic manner they go about this should answer that question all by itself.
I should note that I don’t like the film’s aesthetics. Whatever value there ever was in grainy, deliberately unsteady hand-held camerawork evaporated for me a long time ago. Forced naturalism is just that, and “realistic” dialogue as a synonym for boringly inarticulate isn’t my idea of profundity. Others may disagree. But worse is the lack of real characterization, in exactly the same manner as the mumblecorish Paper Heart from a few weeks back. Who are these people? What do they do? What do they like or read or listen to or watch? What do they want to do with their lives? I have no clue. Hell, no wonder they’re vaguely discontented—they don’t do anything other than work at unspecific jobs, embody one archetype or another and hang out.
The idea of exploring the boundaries of male bonding—of getting the subtext out into the open—is a worthy one. It’s too bad that Shelton’s film doesn’t really do it. Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) did a better job and it never even directly talked about the topic. Here, that’s all anyone does—talk—but they never get to the real issue of whether or not bonding is a kind of romance. In fact, it never gets much beyond Homosexual Panic 101. The movie gets points for making the attempt, but the attempt falls short of the concept at nearly every turn. Rated R for some strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use.