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Humpday

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Mark Duplass, Alycia Delmore, Joshua Leonard, Lynn Shelton

(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 10 Jul 2009 (Limited release); 2009)

Just Talk It Out

The way I like to think of myself and the way I actually am are more different than I’d like them to be.
—Ben Mark Duplass)


“You’re awesome.” Indeed, Anna (Alycia Delmore) is quite awesome. Funny, smart, and a good cook, she’s also in tune with her husband Ben’s (Mark Duplass) moods and needs. When, during the first few minutes of Humpday, they nuzzle and begin to pet one another in bad, she confesses, “I’m so tired,” he is flat-out grateful. “I was hoping you were going to say that,” he laughs. “I’m tired too.” And with that, they roll apart, so cute and happy and confident that they understand one another utterly.


Until… mere hours later, Andrew (Joshua Leonard) comes knocking at the front door. Returned less than triumphantly from a sojourn in Mexico, Andrew’s impressed that his old college buddy Ben is now living the adult life—complete with house, car, coffee table books, and wife. The last of these possessions watches the boys hug and punch, mentions something about work the next day, and heads back upstairs. Ben, briefly sheepish, tries to explain Andrew to his wife, you know, the awesome one: “He just does this!”


Thus begins the bromance of Humpday. As usual, the relationship leaves out the girl who is nonetheless on hand to instantiate the boys’ heterosexuality. Patient as such women usually are, Anna waits for her man to get a grip, even as she also tries to connect with this blast from his past, or at least to appreciate what makes Andrew so compelling. Alternately childish and coarse, he makes himself at home in her home, distracts her husband, and disrupts her schedule. Still, she invites the interloper over for pork chops, then forgives Ben when the dinner goes cold because the guys are partying at a house called “Dionysus.” “You could come here and dionyze,” Ben offers on the phone in the bathroom, hoping Anna won’t come. Here, bisexual Monica (played by director Lynn Shelton) and her girlfriend Lily (Trina Willard) display what might be an enviable openness to sexual adventure. “She likes her boy time,” Lily explains. Ben looks awed.


It’s at this party—with occasional cuts back to Anna with her pork on a plate—that Ben and Andrew come up with the project that will drive the plot, namely, an entry for a Seattle amateur porn festival. Determined that their film must be “unique,” they plan to star in it themselves. It’ll be “dude on dude action,” but not gay, “just two straight dudes straight balling. It could be, Monica suggests, “beyond gay.” 


It seems like a stoned-late-at-night dare made to be forgotten, but the next morning, when Anna reminds Ben that he missed their ovulating window the night before (“I really don’t want to talk to you right now”), he revisits the idea. Persistently unable to say why, he wants to make the film. Perhaps he wants to recover his youth or return to a state of imaginary Andrewness; for his part, Andrew can’t help but compete with Anna, who has stolen his bro, or more precisely, his slowly receding notion of himself.


Ben is apparently more concerned to sort out this “post-last-night residual weirdness” than the equal weirdness with Anna—or maybe he just feels more capable of sorting it out. Both weirdnesses involve deception, but the one with his wife is bound to be undone (she can, in a word, read him pretty easily) while the one with Andrew can extend the lies pretty much endlessly. He and Andrew resolve to treat their hangovers with a hoops contest. Their court is limited to Ben’s very short driveway, setting their game right up against the street where kids on bikes gawk in disbelief when they don’t stop at missing baskets, but go on to wrestle one another on the pavement. Huffing and puffing, their shorts and t-shirts bunched up around their pudgy limbs, they contemplate their near future: will they go through with the “art project” they’ve sworn they want to do, or will they back off, once again not completing something they said they would?


In case you’re counting, Humpday—part sitcom and part Judd Apatow—is mumblecorish in its attention to scruffily fascinating detail and handheld-improvvy aesthetic. It is also sharp and often funny, at least until it seems essentially written into a corner, much as the boys position themselves. They struggle to define themselves—apart from Anna and in relation to one another, yet also as grownup versions of the selves they know best. “You’re not as Kerouac as you think you are,” Ben apprises his friend. “And I’m not so picket fence as you think I am.”


As silly as they are consequential, these models of masculinity hardly describe either friend. And yet both worry they aren’t who they want to be, and worse, that they don’t even know who that might be. When Andrew looks for affirmation from Monica and Trina, he’s undone by his own expectations; when Ben turns to Anna, he’s startled to learn that his shifting desires are not the only surprises in their marriage. Their searches for self-reflections in one another are just as confusing. You might feel like you walk away with more comprehension than they do. But then, you might also be fooling yourself.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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