Humpday is that movie: the one about a pair of guy friends who decide they're going to make an "artistic" pornographic movie, starring themselves as two straight guys having sex. If those words make you feel the compulsion to go check your fantasy-baseball status or Google some images of Gisele Bündchen in underwear rather than read on, please, stay with me. No heterosexual males were compromised in the making of this movie, nor is there any actual pornography in Humpday. This Sundance prizewinner from director Lynn Shelton is an undeniably titillating movie, but ultimately, its provocation is emotional, not physical.
Ben and Andrew have been friends since college, but now that they're in their 30s, that friendship has become mostly a fond memory, now close to dormancy. Ben (Mark Duplass) has been busy making a life for himself in Seattle, acquiring a steady job, a house and a wife doe-eyed Anna (Alycia Delmore), who is warm and kind and really gets him. Andrew (Joshua Leonard) is one of those carefree, just-back-fromMachu Picchu types, reliable mostly for being unreliable. Both men are at that stage of life where the costumes they've been trying on are about to become uniforms if they don't swap them for something else soon.
To Andrew, a wife, even a nice one like Anna, is by definition a ball and chain. Arriving uninvited and unannounced in the middle of the night, he is wildly enthusiastic, proclaiming his love for Ben with ferocious bear hugs and many "I love you, man"s. Anna he waggles his finger at, telling her, "And you. I don't love you yet, but I will." (This might be a threat.) Her eyebrows arch delicately, conveying not just mild horror but consternation over her own reaction. She knows she's too cool to be ruffled and jealous, but she can't help herself. Thanks to boldly truthful moments like this one, along with highly naturalistic and often hilarious dialogue and a trio of appealing co-stars, Humpday quickly transcends its own gimmick.
It only takes Andrew an afternoon to befriend a like-minded, co-op-dwelling bisexual (played by the multitasking Shelton), who invites him over for an evening of drugs, dancing and experimental thinking, if not actions. Andrew persuades Ben to drop by to meet his new friend. "It's a little weird," Ben tells Anna on the phone, promising he'll be home in time for dinner. "The place is called Dionysus, and they aren't kidding." Wanting to please both friend and wife, he's torn. In the end, the desire to be as hip as he believed himself to be in college wins out over Anna's celebrated pork chops.
In a late-night stoned discussion of Seattle's annual HUMP! a film festival for amateur pornographers Andrew makes his "you, me and a camera" proposal. The film will be "beyond gay," and a likely festival winner, he thinks. But primarily, it's an insult to Ben, a gauntlet thrown down in the battle of the lifestyles, with the subtext, You're too square for this. (Andrew's main defense in life is that he's resolutely not square.)
The challenge becomes the fulcrum on which their future relationship hangs. As the movie shifts into a sort of precoital pillow talk between straight men, it's surprisingly suspenseful. Will they go ahead with it, and if so, what will it mean to them? What will it mean for Ben's marriage? Who gets to dominate? Ostensibly, Ben and Andrew's conversations are about sexual boundaries and the ways in which straight men, even enlightened ones, recoil at the thought of gay sex (male, that is), but they are just as much about the limits of adult friendships and the boxes we often put our oldest friends in. "You're not as Kerouac as you think you are, and I'm not as white picket fence as you think I am," Ben tells Andrew.
When someone gets married, some friend inevitably at least feels forsaken. Andrew is clearly saddened by the realization that he is no longer the person Ben connects to most easily. Ben cares too much about Andrew to want him to feel cast aside. Both are figuring out how hard it is, particularly for men, to make new friends in midlife. Each has other legitimate fears: Ben of feeling limited, even as he adores Anna, and Andrew of being a poseur (which he is, but Leonard makes us care for him). Anna has fears too. The truth is, the distance between these men is likely to grow, and she doesn't want to get the blame for that.
Anna is also intuitive enough to understand that there is an attraction between Ben and Andrew. Most likely, it's just about personality, but Shelton suggests at times that there might be something more to it. Ben and Andrew are like a pair of little boys, pummeling each other constantly to make contact. Watching them in an angry wrestling match after a competitive basketball game, you start to think that maybe they should make out, crazy as it seems. That's the power of this subversive movie; it challenges us as much as it challenges its own characters. Humpday makes you squirm and think, in the best possible way.