(By Erik Davis - reprinted from the Sundance Film Festival, 1/17/09)
We're only a couple weeks into 2009, but clearly this year will be all about the term 'bromance' -- which describes, in case you haven't heard, a close, non-sexual bond between two straight men. Bromance is now a cheesy show on MTV; the flick I Love You, Man (in theaters this Spring) is carrying some advanced bromantic-comedy-of-the-year buzz; and now here's this quiet, unassuming festival film called Humpday -- which takes the Hollywood out of the bromance by bringing it down to a level practically everyone can relate to. And while Humpday lacks the sparkle, the set pieces, the A-listers and the foul-mouthed fart gags, its well-written script remains grounded with the type of real-people humor we've grown to adore over the years.
Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) are friends; good friends -- some would say great friends -- except that was way back when and, now, Ben has a cushy marriage, a new house, a nice office job and all the time in the world to love his wife and make her a new baby. Andrew, on the other hand, doesn't know how to settle or how to stay put -- he's an intense adventurer who's always looking for the next great "experience". And while it's been some time since Ben and Andrew last saw each other, that all changes when the latter shows up on his old pal's doorstep at two-in-the-morning looking for a place to crash and play catch-up. But Andrew's arrival sparks more than just a few fun memories ...
Unfortunately (and fortunately) for both men, Andrew's come at a time when Ben was just about to dive into the rest of his life by creating a new one and starting a family. But to Ben, Andrew represents everything he isn't and will never be. Ben wants to experience new things, he wants to live a little on the edge -- but he doesn't want to give up the great thing he has at home or the fantastic relationship he has with his wife. So when Ben is invited to go hang with Andrew at the house of the free-spirited hippie friends he randomly met at the supermarket, he goes ... but only with the intent of bringing Andrew back home to his house for dinner.
Well, one beer leads to a bong hit which leads to the discovery of an amateur porn festival called Humpfest. Intoxicated and feeling the good vibes, Andrew and Ben then come up with the brilliant idea to create "art" by having sex on camera as two straight men. Thus begins a new kind of discovery for both men, as the two struggle to come to terms with why they want to have sex on camera, what it means for their friendship now, then and moving forward. For Andrew -- a wannabee artist who's never completed a piece of art -- this "project" gives him a chance to finally finish something, and at the same time win back the part of his friend he feels he may have lost to adulthood. Meanwhile Ben wants the experience, he wants to reconnect with the intimate moments of his youth, and he wants to break free -- if only for one night -- from the daunting task that is the rest of his life.
The film then goes into will-they-or-won't-they mode, with Ben and Andrew squaring off against Ben's wife and each other before, well, we come to the most hilariously well-played uncomfortable conclusion. And that's what is so great about Humpday -- it's uncomfortable, yes (especially for the straight men in the audience), but it forces you to get in touch with those weird vibes because the ideas, thoughts and actions throughout the film are so damn relatable. Most surprising, too, is that Humpday was written and directed by a woman, Lynn Shelton -- whose script is so full of the kind of genuine straight-male paranoia you wouldn't expect a gal to be so tapped into. Then again, men are easy reads, and Shelton is helped by two excellent performances from Duplass and Leonard, who, I'm sure, brought their own ideas and insecurities to the table.
Similar to the popular mumblecore films, Shelton's direction is very fly-on-the-wall, as she lets the awkward -- and often laugh-out-loud funny -- conversations play out in real time, for as long as it takes to not only set the mood, but hit the crucial plot points. And that's what also sets this apart from your typical mumblecore flick -- Humpday feels structured, grounded and extremely focused. It moves and plays like a wandering indie, but it hits its marks and never takes its audience out of the moment. If the opposite of a chick flick would be a dick flick, then I suppose that's what Humpday would be -- a funny, strong, sympathetic dick flick that will bury itself deep within your most intimate areas until it's won over your heart, your soul and your wicked sense of humor.