Movies Reviews Lynn Shelton

Release Date: July 10 (limited)

Director: Lynn Shelton

Writer: Lynn Shelton

Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore

Cinematographer: Benjamin Kasulke

Studio/Run Time: Magnolia Pictures, 95 mins.

Ben and Andrew’s infinitely awkward sex dare

If Kevin Smith’s movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno had an ounce of spontaneity and a drop of wisdom, it might have resembled Humpday, the new film from Lynn Shelton. I’m not sure that Shelton would care much for the comparison, since she’s made a comedy with real characters and very few, if any, raunchy jokes, but the plots are similar enough that Humpday feels like Zack and Miri’s low-budget indie cousin.

Ben and Andrew (played by Mark Duplass from The Puffy Chair and Joshua Leonard from The Blair Witch Project) go way back. But they’ve drifted apart. Ben’s married and trying to have a kid; Andrew’s a free spirit who drifts into town one night unannounced, hoping to reconnect with his buddy. They end up at a party full of counter-culture types, an environment where Andrew instantly befriends everyone and Ben just does his best to keep up, trying not to look like the married fuddy-duddy that he fears he’s become. The effervescent atmosphere leads to a conversation about an amateur porn contest run by a local magazine, and before the night is over, when the pot smoke is at it’s thickest, Ben and Andrew have dared each other to make—and star in—their own adult video, with all that that entails.

Humpday may sound superficially like Smith’s film, but the premise and tone, at least initially, are more like Kelly Reichardt’s film Old Joy, and in that comparison, Humpday feels not like your stuffy aunt but like your rebellious cousin. Old Joy is a beautiful, subtly political lament, but Humpday seems like the film that it might have turned into if its director had ditched the script and lit up a doobie once the cameras started rolling. “OK, suppose these old friends agree to, I don’t know, have sex on camera.” Wait. What?

So Humpday itself is a little like Ben and a little like Andrew, depending on your point of view. It’s a free spirit, but it’s also grounded in real life. One day, those two personalities meet, and it can’t end well, for the characters or the film. But Shelton, who often seems hemmed in by the high concept, manages to worm her way out so expertly that when it’s over the whole thing feels like it was built backwards, starting not with the premise but with the last conversation between Ben and Andrew, a funny, observant look at the way straight male buddies interact. Personally, I’ve never seen two guys rationalize their way into or out of a porn shoot, but I nevertheless feel like I’ve heard this final conversation before. The topic is wild, but the nervous cadence, the macho attitude, and the analytical explanations are entirely familiar.

Humpday is a comedy, but for sheer fun, I probably prefer Baghead, the under-seen movie that was written and directed last year by Mark Duplass and his brother Jay. Baghead also moves in two directions at once—it’s a little bit funny and a little bit creepy—but because it seems more willing to let those conflicting modes ricochet off of each other instead of encouraging them to make peace, it’s open to all possibilities, ready to spring in any direction at any moment. Many of Humpday’s conversations feel spontaneous, like the one where Ben breaks the news of the dare to his wife, but the basic arc of the story fits into one flat track, focusing all of its comic suspense into a corner. We know where it’s going. We just don’t know what’s going to happen when it gets there. But it turns out that the corner has a tasty little iced cupcake waiting for those who accept the silly idea. It’s worth the wait, even if it leaves you a little hungry when it’s gone.

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