Special to The Washington Post
July 24, 2009
If prizes were handed out for a low-budget movie with the year's highest concept, one would have to be reserved for Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," in which two straight, former college buddies decide to make a gay porn film together.
Shelton, a Seattle-based actor/writer/director, puts a mumblecore-shaggy spin (a la "Hannah Takes the Stairs") on the current vogue for the heterosexual bromance ("Pineapple Express," "I Love You, Man") and the raunchy-but-endearing mating dance ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"). Not for nothing did movie bloggers herald Shelton as the female Judd Apatow.
If Spike Lee could rise above the "black Woody Allen" claims that greeted "She's Gotta Have It," Shelton should be able to weather her somewhat offensive comparison as well. Besides, she should be amassing so many legit prizes for "Humpday" in the coming year, she can afford to be magnanimous.
Shelton's Ben and Andrew (the pricelessly in-sync Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard) are aging avatars of the "awesome" generation, for whom everything and everyone could be summed up by that stoner sobriquet. Like the two friends reuniting for one last jaunt in Kelly Reichardt's "Old Joy," one is settled, the other an adventurer. Ben, a "transportation planner," is endeavoring to have a baby with his wife, Anna (an alert and touching Alycia Delmore). The bumptious Andrew is an itinerant artist who avoids finishing anything by shuttling between Lonely Planet destinations. Machu Picchu is where he learned a homeopathic restorative for hangovers.
Andrew's Peruvian cure will come in handy after they emerge from an uninhibited art-crowd party, where, in a self-medicated haze, they agree to go at each other for an amateur porn festival. It will be "like this awesome art project." It will be "beyond gay."
It may also be further beyond their respective comfort zones than either could have anticipated. While the two have no issues rubbing skin in a basketball game, the prospect of carnal physicality is unhinging. "We're doing this because it scares us more than anything else," one insists, offering a wan call to arms as they stagger toward a close encounter of the first kind.
Shelton could have easily turned her comedy into a mocking slap at male bravado. But "Humpday" exhibits a generous, dare we say, empathy for its two hapless protagonists as they attempt to reconcile the gap between their idealized sense of self and the men they really are.
She also contributes an essential and fully evolved foil in the person of Anna, who makes a game effort at accommodating her husband's strange new quest. One cannot say enough in praise of Delmore, who externalizes Anna's bemusement with affecting subtlety, most adroitly during a hilarious scene in which Ben makes a hamhanded stab at apprising his wife of his imminent gay-porn debut. Delmore, Duplass and Leonard work up a loose-limbed, improvisatory energy, but "Humpday" radiates with the sheen of a film that has been thought out within an inch of its witty and bountifully insightful life.
Contains sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use.