When will cinema stop being obsessed by sex? Sex scenes these days are so predictably present, and so predictable, they may as well start slotting in audience toilet breaks - just to keep it real. Do filmmakers still collectively think we have no clue what happens when naked people rub up against each other? On-screen relationships were much more interesting when actors had to keep one foot on the bedroom floor.
Humpday is a film obsessed by sex like a toddler is obsessed with presenting what they've done in their potty. To its credit, Humpday came out of the Sundance Film Festival, and hardly any DV-made, Sundance films actually make it to theatres. Film critics tend to believe people will see Transformers despite the reviews, but a small, independent film can be helped greatly by a good quote for the posters. Sad to say no such quote will be provided in these prudish paragraphs.
Ben is living between the lines. He's transportation planner by day, married to Anna. Andrew is a backpacker, proclaiming to be an artist but never actually producing anything. Andrew turns up on Ben's doorstep one night, and takes his friend to a sex positive artists' commune. The conversation turns to a pornographic film festival called Humpfest (based on the real amateur porn fest in Seattle hosted by the alt weekly paper The Stranger) The friends decide that it would be oh-so radical and profound if they made a porno in which they, two heterosexual men, have sex. Director Lynn Shelton must never have heard of the many straight men who star in gay porn. They're so common they even have a nickname: Gay-For-Pay.
Humpday unfolds with the amateur camera work and semi-improvisational scripting of the mumblecore movement. Mumblecore is wonderful when it's not about much, but this is mumblecore with something to say.
Humpday was championed at Sundance as marking a turning point in normalizing man-love relationships in cinema. I Love You, Man, Brokeback Mountain, and Judd Apatow have done far better work for this cause. Humpday, on the other hand, is offensively trite. Ben and Andrew are two bored boys who want to prove to each other that they are interesting, exciting people, and in the way that jocks drink other jocks' urine. The story would have worked as a sharp satire or a mean comedy. But the film gives its two main characters leeway for their shallow self-indulgence, instead of the sneer they deserve.
Humpday gets in bed with its liberal audience - and who else would they be - and then has the audacity to goad them throughout for not being liberal enough. The message seems to be: you might be fine with men having sex with men, you might barely give it a second thought, but if you wouldn't want your spouse to have sex with his best friend for a pornography film, well, then you must be some kind of Neo-Con!
So, wife Anna must be okay with this. Ben presents the idea as though he were suggesting a motorbike trip across Thailand. Anna's so "awesome" (as Ben keeps telling us and her), she can hardly protest. Believing in monogamy is, to the Humpday crew, closed-minded. Believing in behaving with some adult decorum is "square" (yes, they actually use the word square). And thus this film willfully alienates anyone who'd give it the time of day and goes along with its insufferable, self-serious premise. Live and let live, but Humpday challenges you to disagree with Ben and Andrew's tedious whim, and once you yawn and do so, calls you homophobic.
Directed by Lynn Shelton. Starring Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard. Rated R.