Humpday (Director: Lynn Shelton): Two reviews in a row about films by women dir­ect­ors about the del­ic­ate rela­tion­ships between men. But Humpday and The Hurt Locker (review) couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Where the lat­ter rat­cheted up the ten­sion with action and explo­sions, Lynn Shelton’s film builds it with queasy laughter and an out­rageous game of chicken.

Ben (Mark Duplass) is a thirty-some­thing trans­port­a­tion plan­ner, hap­pily mar­ried to Anna (Alycia Delmore) and liv­ing in a nice house in Seattle. And then his old col­lege buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard) arrives in the middle of the night, look­ing for a place to crash after return­ing from an artists’ colony in Mexico. It’s clear that the two have taken dif­fer­ent paths since col­lege, but Ben doesn’t like the feel­ing that he’s become a cliche, so he accom­pan­ies his friend to a wild party at the home of a bisexual artist Andrew’s just met. After many sub­stances have been con­sumed, the talk turns to Humpfest, Seattle’s ama­teur porn con­test.

In a moment of drunken one-up-man­ship, Ben sug­gests to Andrew that they should make a tape of the two of them hav­ing sex. It will be the greatest art pro­ject ever, he says, it will be “bey­ond gay.” Challenging his “artist” buddy to con­trib­ute to an art pro­ject is a sly form of dare, and Andrew can’t say no. Even in the sober light of day, the two of them can’t seem to back down. The best scenes are of Andrew try­ing to let Ben back out. “I know this scene isn’t really for you,” he says, which only gets Ben to dig in his heels.

Shelton has per­fectly cap­tured the com­pet­it­ive­ness of men, even mod­ern sens­it­ive men. The subtle chem­istry between Ben and Andrew is a joy to watch, even at its most uncom­fort­able. Each man’s fears are driv­ing this ridicu­lous battle of wills. Ben’s afraid he’s lost whatever edge he might have had in col­lege, and Andrew feels that his artist per­sona is really just a phony mask cov­er­ing up a much more reg­u­lar guy. The com­edy is sharp, but for me it was the com­edy of recog­ni­tion.

It’s also bit­ter­sweet, as these two guys real­ize that their friend­ship, genu­ine as it is, has changed as their lives have changed. I hope this won’t spoil the end­ing, but the emo­tional release the two friends even­tu­ally achieve is more ful­filling than any “money shot” could ever be.

P.S. You might also enjoy Shelton’s last film, another smart explor­a­tion of male friend­ship called My Effortless Brilliance (review).

Official site of the film


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