Film Reviews

Man to Man

Lynn Shelton's Humpday, a sexual sitcom, opens with a pair of breeders in bed. A youngish married couple, Ben (mumblecordeon Mark Duplass) and Anna (Alycia Delmore), confess that they're too tired to procreate that night and then confess their mutual relief. As if in response, the doorbell rings at 2 a.m. and Ben's long-lost college buddy, Andrew (Blair Witch Project survivor Joshua Leonard), stumbles in from deepest Mexico. Anna, who has never had the pleasure, watches the unexpected bromantic action with grim incredulity. Aggressively loud, demonstrative, and hairy, Andrew is a credible representation of Ben's id.

Reuniting an uptight married man with a footloose old pal, Shelton's third feature offers a much more extreme version of Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, also a sort of buddy movie, also shot in the Pacific Northwest. In this case, the lost weekend is steeped in sexual anxiety. Friday night, Ben has to retrieve merry Andrew from a house called "Dionysus"—home to a bi cutie (the director herself) and an omnisexual assortment of roisterers. No orgies but plenty of stoned dancing. Anna, who has prepared her signature pork-chop dinner, sits home alone. She stews; Ben gets stewed. Prompted by news of an amateur porn festival — sponsored by a local alt-weekly — Ben finds himself proposing to costar with showoff Andrew in a mad art project, dude-on-dude action, totally straight, yet somewhere "beyond gay." Maybe they'll be famous. The only problem: Just who is going to bone whom?

Having thus invested its protagonists in a game of "chicken," played to justify their respective life choices, Humpday delivers some excellent situation comedy. The scene in which Andrew and Anna have a get-acquainted drink and Andrew inadvertently exposes Ben's boastful lie that his wife has signed off on their "project" is pure Honeymooners. (Bang, zoom, straight to the moon!) Ben can't tell Anna why he wants to have sex with Andrew, only that it's very, very important to him. And, terrified that Ben might think he really did have a yen, Andrew can only sigh, "I wish I was more gay." Of course. Just as Brüno is more of a comment on celebrity culture than the love (or hate) that dare not speak its name, Humpday is actually less a queer comedy than a satiric view of macho. Appreciative as Shelton may be of her dudes, she has another agenda. Each in his own way, the guys have been freaked by a manifestation of assertive female sexuality — although the term pussy-whipped is never used.

Utterly functional, Humpday is a movie of close camera placement and seemingly improvised dialogue. Everything is "awesome" unless it's "weird" — which is how it feels when the dudes meet for their tryst, set up the camera, and strip to their boxers. "We need to let our bodies take over," one hazards. With everything building up to the spectacle of two (straight) guys getting it on, Humpday is ultimately about itself. Shelton claims that she contrived an open ending. What happens? Don't ask; I won't tell. Suffice it to say that, last seen beating their midriffs like apes, Ben and Andrew confront the fear but not the desire.

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J. Hoberman
Contact: J. Hoberman