Humpday (2009) dir. Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
The first film off the bat here at Sundance is true masterpiece of comic realism. Remember Kevin Smith’s “Zach and Miri Made a Porno”? Imagine that film told with complete in-your-shoes realism, and funnier.
Ben (Mark Duplass) is a 30 year old middle class male, with a loving wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) in a decent job and in a healthy relationship. They’re about to take the next step and ‘start trying” for a baby. On their ‘humpday’ , in the middle of the night Ben hears a loud knock on the door. It’s Andrew , Ben’s former college roomie, now a journeyman vagabond back from a 12 year global adventure, who, like gangbusters interrupts their quiet life. As Ben and Andrew rekindle their backslapping glory days, we can’t help but think it’s alienating Anna.
During a rambunctious booze and bong filled party, Andrew announces he wants to create an art project for a Porn film festival. During their drunken chatter (and without Anna present) Ben challenges Andrew to make a straight-male porno… together! The next day in a surprising twist both men want to go forward with the idea. The task will challenge their relationship and disclose profound personal revelations within themselves.
It’s kind of a minor miracle for writer/director Shelton who dramatizes such absurdities with unwavering truth and cinema realism. The success perhaps is no surprise as Shelton spent a decade in documentaries before making features. Still the consistency in realism is astonishing. Shelton covers all bases, and in her writing, has thought about the situation from every point of view. Like a thriller genre film has to fill ‘plot holes’, Shelton fills all the ‘emotional holes’. How would Ben approach Anna with the proposition? How would Anna react? What would the two men do once they got in the room and had to do the deed? However disturbing Shelton puts us in their shoes and forces us to ask ourselves, ‘what would I do in that situation?’ No stone of emotional logic is left unturned and the film never falls back on cliché, or Hollywood fakery to pull a laugh.
And no laughs are sacrificed either. Duplass and Leonard have natural bromantic chemistry. Their dialogue feels natural without resorting to painful improvisation. Both characters are both affable and intelligent. And the finale is a tour de force of comic timing, a perfectly set-up climatic scene when the duo are forced to confront their deepest fears.
With such a simple set-up Shelton manages to twist the plot and thus our expectations with ease. As the audience we expect a story like this settle into some kind of Judd Apatow, or Kevin Smith genre comedy, and just as we think we’ve figured out all three characters (including Anna) Shelton will make a sharp left turn to keep us on the balance of realism.
The finale is so satisfying because despite the unconventionality of the storytelling the arc of each character is wrapped up with out-of-the-textbook structural perfection. The black and white notion of Ben as the middle class sell out and Andrew as the worldly bohemian artist are made grey as both characters are brought closer together in ways which relieve our personal neuroses about fitting into such pre-defined archetypes.
This film is a quiet masterpiece and deserves to find a broad audience. Enjoy.