As seen at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival:
While hardly remarkable when viewed in
isolation—that is, not compared to its mostly-dreadful mumblecore genre
counterparts—Humpday nonetheless boasts several funny
moments and a unique dissection of certain heterosexual males’
perplexedly fascinated attitudes towards homoeroticism.
premise: Ben (Mark Duplass, king of mumblecore) is a
thirtysomething who has settled down into a quiet life with his
lovely wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). But he begins to question
whether taking the domestic route was the right choice when old,
scraggly buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up in the middle of
the night looking for a place to bunk, only to take him partying
the next day. Ben finds the youthful scene he left behind for
marriage to be alluring, and soon enough he’s high as a kite.
Loaded, he and Andrew proclaim to their hippie-dippy
counterparts that they’re going to make a gay porn movie and
enter it into competition at the popular local sex festival,
Hump Fest. Instead of forgetting about the idea when they’ve
sobered up, though, the two only further commit to it, as if it
would be emasculating to not live up to the challenge.
For once, the
mumblecore style really fits the material—OK, maybe it worked in
the Duplasses’ Baghead, too—but not in the way one might
expect. Humpday clicks on meta level, as if
writer/director Lynn Shelton and the cast are making fun of
their commitment to the understated genre, which proves so
unwavering that they use it to tell even this outrageous
story. The tactic pays off immensely. For instance, had a
pivotal scene in which Anna learns of her now-aspiring filmmaker
husband’s plan been handled in an overbearing,
desperate-for-laughs manner, it would’ve fell flat. The deathly
serious, nearly sublime tone that Humpday instead opts
for proves hilarious. When Ben and Andrew finally book a hotel
room and get down to business, the experience reaches an
uncomfortably comic crescendo. Both Shelton and her deadpan
actors, especially the where-did-they-get-this-guy Joshua
Leonard and the terrified-looking Alycia Delmore, are
responsible for maintaining the delicate balance of comedy and
Unfortunately, the usual misgivings of mumblecore pictures still
apply to Humpday, even if it’s better than the average
genre-entry. When the humor falls flat—namely in the first act
when Ben begins indulging in the party scene and in the second
when Ben and Andrew constantly debate whether they should go
through with the porno or not—the token style seems as boring
and phony as it has ever been. Despite its many brilliant
moments, Humday also has a tendency to look and feel like
a bad student-film, as mumblecore efforts all-too-frequently do.
Yes, Shelton’s picture is entertaining enough on the whole that
it left me more optimistic about the genre and its core-players
than I was going in, but I still ultimately doubt that it has
much to say. Humpday touches on a few fascinating themes
about masculinity and has its share of laughs, but one would be
hard pressed to argue there’s enough substance there that it was
worth making the film in the first place.
3.19.2009 at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX.
Humpday is rated R and runs 94 minutes.
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