BAMCinemaFest Review: Humpday
“Would you consider this film a ‘bromance’?” The question was posed at the Q+A for Humpday (which played during the BAMCinemaFEST) to both the director, Lynn Shelton and the film’s mercurial star, Joshua Leonard.
Mr. Leonard grabbed the microphone. “I think so,” he said. “I think this is the ultimate bromance. We’re cutting to the chase here about what all these moves are about, which is: I kinda want to fuck you.”
Which is an interesting comment and way to view the film.
Taken on its own, Humpday is certainly an impressive indie comedy. Its jokes and largely improvised feel sticking it somewhere between the films of Judd Apatow and the television antics of a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unlike those works however, Humpday differs because, while it does rely on its characters uncomfortableness around homosexuality for laughs, it’s also somewhat painfully sincere in its exploration of those impulses.
The plot is fairly simple, fairly ridiculous: complacent goodnik Ben (Mark Duplass) has settled down to a life of comfort and compromise in suburban Seattle. He has a pretty, real-looking wife (Alycia Delmore) and the couple are trying hard to conceive, talking about “ovulation windows” and carefully-planned copulation. Into this realm of domesticity comes Andrew (Joshua Leonard), Ben’s one time best-friend, a young man described nicely by Ben as “not as Kerouac as he’d like to be.” With his blond-beard and free-wheelin’ attitude, Andrew suggests an alternate path for Ben, the logical-end point for one’s hippie-days of college. As a Dionysian evening (literally, for a laugh) spurs a hipster bet that “it would be really arty to see two straight guys have sex,” the two verge into discomfort as the bet is followed through and also, pleasantly for us, some awkward hilarity.
Again, taken by itself this would be enough to call the film a winning, light comedy and leave it at that. But Humpday is just as interesting for what it’s not as what it is. It is, yes, a sort of “bromance,” but it is simultaneously less crude and more heart-felt than the canny I Love You, Man which skirted issues of how the characters played by Paul Rudd and Jason Siegel might actually feel about each other, in favor of gay jokes and Andy Samberg. On the other end of the spectrum, the film isn’t exactly the same as the “mumblecore” movies that Mr. Duplass (a noted filmmaker himself) engages in. While it might appear to be such, and it shares some of the same loosely scripted feel as those films, Humpday is actually a pretty tight movie, rigorously structured with a beginning, middle and end and issues and explorations that are actually pretty marked, unlike the subtlety of for instance another film playing in the BAMCinemaFest, Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax.
What we get instead, is a little of the best of the both worlds: the crass nearly non-stop humor of an Apatow film, along with the lighter home-brew touch of some of the “mumblecore” filmmakers. How much this is to do with Ms. Shelton’s direction is unclear. Mr. Duplass and Mr. Leonard, both independent spirits, certainly had much to do with the writing and direction of this film. But perhaps the lens of auteurship is not the best way to look at Humpday, which is probably what the characters would tell you as well: regardless of who did what, isn’t it just more important that we screwed around and had a good time?
I’d be inclined to agree.