Reviews

Humpday

In Humpday, Andrew can't help but compete with Anna, who has stolen his bro, or more precisely, his slowly receding notion of himself.


Humpday

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Mark Duplass, Alycia Delmore, Joshua Leonard, Lynn Shelton
Rated: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-07-10 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
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.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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