Humpday

2009, Movie, R, 94 mins

Review

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The only problem with Humpday is that you sometimes get the impression that it's supposed to be blowing your mind. It won't -- or at least it shouldn't -- but expectations aside, it's a fairly clever, sometimes insightful dramedy, posing a lot of interesting questions about intimacy, adulthood, and the limits of bromance. Just don't expect it to answer them.

The story opens on thirtysomething Ben, who shares a comfortable, Gen-X-style yuppie home with his soon-to-be pregnant wife, Anna, full of healthy communication, lite beer, and groceries from Whole Foods. Then, late one night, Ben's crazy friend Andrew shows up, fresh off his latest adventure in some far-off land with loose sexual mores. The bearded wild card of the once-inseparable duo has spent the years since college partying in every corner of the globe, and Ben enthuses about the surprise visit, graciously offering a spare bed, while commiserating with Anna in private about the inconvenience of it all.

The two friends hang out over the coming days, mostly partying with some artists that Andrew picks up on his first morning in town. This is where the humping intimated in the title first arises, during a discussion about an upcoming indie porn film festival called Humpfest, where amateur participants submit their own adult films to be screened and then destroyed, with awards for what you might call boldness, or creativity. Caught up in the moment, someone floats the suggestion of Ben and Andrew shooting a gay porno together -- because nothing could take home Humpfest's first prize for boundary-pushing like two straight men having sex together. An inebriated game of bluff-calling ensues, as each guy insists he could handle it, and it's up to the other to call it off.

But neither one does. And even in the cold light of day, both men find themselves oddly compelled to go through with it -- even though the movie lays out in no uncertain terms that neither guy is attracted to men. Instead, an epic exploration opens up about how life's choices shape your identity (at the sacrifice of some of the film's earlier humor, which is priceless), and Ben tries to explain this whole thing to his wife. Ben actually spends basically the entire movie navigating the waters of modern "my partner is my best friend" marriage in this way, always insisting to Anna that he's only participating in Andrew's shenanigans to humor him -- even though Ben is clearly having fun himself. But even when he's calling Anna from a hippie shindig, disingenuously wishing that he could ditch Andrew and come home, he never actually seems duplicitous. Despite the familiar premise, Humpday doesn't end up following the standard movie template about the responsible guy waking up one day to see his domestic bliss for the prison that it is. It's just about one individual wanting paradoxical things -- and that's before gay sex even enters the equation.

This definitely eschews convention, and the chief upside is that you can't possibly misconstrue Ben's confusion for malice, and the nuance of the narrative is undeniable. But the downside is that things can get tedious. The movie's hyper-naturalistic, fly-on-the-wall style relies heavily on long, unflinching shots of people being uncomfortable, and meandering improvised dialogue -- which is definitely realistic, but sometimes belies the thoroughly ridiculous events in the story. Also, when things get serious (which is often), it can feel like the film is striving to be cinematically experimental -- and the effect of "trying too hard" is never good.

Content-wise, however, the movie does open up a lot of heretofore vacuum-sealed cans of worms. Does sex represent a sort of grand completeness that men secretly yearn for in their friendships? Or maybe an "adultness" that could make male camaraderie feel more legitimate? Humpday certainly makes you wonder, but don't expect it to explain -- it looks like the filmmakers are just as curious. leave a comment --Cammila Albertson

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