‘Humpday’: Man-on-man comedy

July 6, 2009

It’s just a coincidence that Lynn Shelton’s wonderfully funny “Humpday,” a comedy about the denial of homosexual panic, is being released Friday, the same day as Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno,” a comedy about a homosexual causing a panic.


The two would make a hilarious double feature. But if I had to recommend one to see first, it would be “Humpday,” for a couple of reasons.


First of all, “Humpday” is, strictly speaking, a far better film, with a script, a plot and interestingly developed characters. It’s a movie in which you can make an emotional investment that pays dividends by the time it’s over. (I’m not dismissing “Bruno” by any means; it’s wildly funny. More about it later this week.)


Secondly, “Humpday” is a micro-budget indie that needs your attention far more than “Bruno,” whose advertising budget alone could finance a couple dozen “Humpdays.”


A hit at Sundance this year, “Humpday” stars Mark Duplass and Josh Leonard as a pair of college pals who haven’t seen each other in 10 years. Ben (Duplass) is a transportation engineer in Seattle, married, trying to have a baby with wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). One night, long after lights out, the doorbell rings: It’s Andrew (Leonard), dropping in for an unannounced stay.


Ben and Andrew apparently were quite the wild men back in the day – and Andrew still chases fun with a vengeance, living an itinerant life as an “artist,” though his “art” remains unspecified. Ben, on the other hand, has tamed the beast within and tried to focus on building a life with Anna; he’s chosen domestication over the searcher’s life.


But then that guy thing kicks in: Suddenly, Ben is giving off the “Hey, I’m still my own boss – no woman holds my leash” vibe with his old friend, when, in fact, he likes being married. On his first day in town, Andrew finds a party to attach himself to, while Ben is at work. When Ben arrives to pick up Andrew, he winds up staying at the party, drinking and smoking away the evening. Before Ben knows it, the two of them have blown off a special dinner that Anna has cooked for Andrew.


Ben is all apologies to his wife, though he doesn’t mention taking a dare that Andrew throws out at the party. It comes during a discussion of Seattle’s annual amateur porn contest. Wouldn’t it be funny, Andrew submits, if he and Ben – two straight guys – were to make a gay porn. Everybody laughs – until Andrew offers that Ben is probably too suburban-married to actually do it. Macho-response mechanism – engage!


That’s one of the funniest aspects of this film: that two guys would try to one-up each other – to see who’s more of a man, who’s less of a wuss – by playing a game of chicken over who’ll back down from gay sex. Are you tough enough – to suck dick?


Of course, it never comes to that specific discussion. Theoretically, these guys are too evolved to get so high-testosterone (except during a telling round of basketball). Instead, they’re testing each other with the idea that it’s all in the name of art – and how can art be wrong?


Part of the humor comes from the way these two mentally wrestle with the idea of having sex with each other – and deny to themselves that it in any way repulses them. They’re both open-minded adults; it’s just an experience. No judgment. But there are also a lot of laughs in the way Ben contorts himself so as not to disappoint Andrew, while, at the same time, not letting Anna see that he’s unleashed his inner fratboy – or even that the inner fratboy still exists.


Duplass, with his massive head and slight bluster, is delightfully vulnerable: just a guy who’s trying to recapture a little of the fun of his youth without jeopardizing a life he loves. He’s a man who hasn’t quite rid himself of a kid’s impulses – and is easy prey for the manipulations of Andrew. Leonard has the engagingly laidback quality of a guy who usually gets what he wants because he knows how to play everyone around him. And Delmore is perfect as the one person able to resist his charms.


With its easy-going pacing and consistently funny give-and-take, “Humpday” is more than just a one-joke movie. It’s a perceptive comedy about masculinity in which men discover just what being a man can really mean.


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