Hardcore Turns Hilariously Awkward In 'Humpday'

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Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in 'Humpday' i

Semi-estranged college roommates Ben (Mark Duplass, left) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) test their sexual boundaries in Humpday. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Magnolia Pictures
Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in 'Humpday'

Semi-estranged college roommates Ben (Mark Duplass, left) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) test their sexual boundaries in Humpday.

Magnolia Pictures

Humpday

  • Director: Lynn Shelton
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Rated R: Some strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use

With: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore

(Recommended)

Yet another reason to envy folks who live in the Pacific Northwest is that the Dan Savage-edited Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger runs a yearly amateur porn video competition called HUMP! And apparently there are lots of people — respectable people, straight, gay, and bi — who sit around brainstorming about what kind of eight-minute hardcore movie they'd like to make and/or perform in.

Now, Seattle director Lynn Shelton uses the real HUMP festival as a springboard for a fabulously squirmy, semi-improvised chamber comedy called Humpday. It centers on two seemingly straight men — 30-something former college roommates — who decide that a surefire contest winner would be them having sex ... with each other. High concept! Actually, it is a "high" concept, which they arrived at while stoned and drunk and lying around a bohemian bisexual enclave.

How they came to that enclave is complicated: When we first see Ben, a city planner played by Mark Duplass, he's living contentedly with his pretty wife, Anna, played by Alycia Delmore. In the first scene they're on the brink of having sex — then they tactfully, carefully determine they're both too tired to follow through, and they're each relieved they're not disappointing the other.

It's an apt overture: You've heard of the fog of war? This is the fog of love. Are they happy as they get ready to start a family, or a little bored?

There's a knock at the door and it's Ben's wanderlusting buddy Andrew, played by Joshua Leonard, whom Anna has barely met and Ben hasn't heard from in years. It's Andrew who introduces Ben to the omni-sexual hedonists who tell him about the competition and set the wheels of their so-called art project in motion.

The tension in Humpday is whether these old pals will, in the sober light of day, go through with that art project — and how they'll justify it to Anna, who's having trouble enough getting Ben to have sex with her. Ben and Andrew aren't quite sure what they should do, and since the movie is largely improvised from director Shelton's outline, the actors are mumbling and fumbling and thinking on their feet along with their characters. Andrew tries to frame it one way, Ben another.

In its way, Humpday is more subversive than Bruno because there aren't any flaming queens: Gay, straight, bi — it's all shades of gray. Maybe Ben and Andrew's manly wrasslin' has no sexual component. Maybe it has a lot, or a little.

Director Shelton gives every sexual epithet a devilish spin so that the movie is wall-to-wall banana-peel Freudian slips. If there's a flaw in Humpday, it's that Ben and Andrew have less of a sexual vibe than many straight guys in buddy pictures.

There's another kind of chemistry on display, though: the comic kind. When Duplass sits opposite Delmore and dithers and lies and talks about everything but what he's really feeling, it's screamingly funny. And it's not just Duplass's babbling, it's Delmore's uncomprehending stares, like someone trying to play charades opposite a Martian.

Shelton films all this with both satire and sympathy. Humpday is like a dramatic neutron bomb, exploding inner lives while leaving social structures intact. Until next year's HUMP fest, that is.

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