Sign up for our free newsletter
According to Humpday, the world could add two new initials to its LGBT sexual-orientation schema: BG, or “beyond gay.” That’s what the film’s Seattle bohos at a hookah-smoking, free-loving party call their idea for an entry into the city’s annual amateur porn festival. The money shot? Two straight dudes, best friends in fact, gettin’ it on. Whoa.
Guess you had to be there. What exactly makes this conceit so mind-blowing— “art porn,” the brainstormers deem it—is never clear in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s contribution to the already-tired mumblecore genre. With an irritating unsteady-cam, Shelton tells the story of Ben (Mark Duplass, a veteran ’core actor and filmmaker), who’s settled into a white-picket-fence lifestyle with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). He thinks he’s satisfied with this low-key existence until an old college friend, Andrew (Joshua Leonard), shows up for a visit in the middle of the night. To Anna’s irritation, Ben lets Andrew crash at their place and explains to her that it’s just how the guy rolls. The next day, he joins Andrew at the aforementioned party at a house dubbed Dionysus, initially seeming uncomfortable but soon getting high and agreeing that boning his buddy on film is a great idea.
Despite Humpday’s being marketed as a comedy, the jokey premise soon turns serious, first when Anna finds out about the plan and later when the boys actually try to make it happen. But this is actually to Shelton’s credit: Her portrait of a bromance is dramatic rather than Apatowian—and therefore a more novel idea than two straight people of the same sex fooling around for sheer exhibitionism. There are true moments here, too. Leading up to the main event, Ben and Andrew talk—and talk and talk—about their divergent post-college paths, ultimately realizing that their lifestyles don’t necessarily speak to their personalities: “I’m not limited because I’m married,” Ben says, hinting that his insistence on following through on the “project” is, ironically, an alpha-male decision. Anna is naturally freaked out when she finds out about their plan and doesn’t buy Ben’s rationale of needing a life outside their relationship, telling him in a nicely worded line that “there are just as many parts to me that aren’t fed by this.”
Undermining the film, though, are jarring inconsistencies in the characters’ personalities as well as an overall lack of logic. A scene in which Andrew is supposed to join a lesbian couple for a little orgy action takes an unbelievable turn when he gets offended by the women’s desire to supplement the fun with a dildo. Anna swings from uptight—or, depending on your perspective, normal—to wildly open-minded. The worst offender, however, is Ben: He first tells Anna that although he isn’t sure why, having sex with Andrew “is important to me.” (Adding, laughably, “And I don’t see the reason we have to get all worked up about it.”) But later he says, “There’s nothing in the world I want to do less.” If you can’t see the genius in this idea to begin with, the latter reaction is obviously more understandable.
Humpday’s final chapter has Ben and Andrew in a motel room trying to go beyond gay. Parts of it are admittedly funny—in a very straight-guy manner, they clap and yell to try to psych themselves, quite literally, up—but mostly the protracted scene makes you think, Why are they doing this again? Another thought: Shut up already. There’s more overanalysis here than in a week’s worth of The View, which may result in a more grown-up look at male friendship—one that drowns in its own earnestness.