Review | Humpday (R) ***

Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in Humpday, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Ted Speaker.

The unsettling comedy Humpday is most certainly not about a Wednesday. Instead, the film’s title refers to the rapidly approaching day in which Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) — best friends from college on the cusp of middle age and secretly terrified of losing what’s left of their youth — are planning to film themselves having sex with each other and enter the resulting movie in Seattle’s annual amateur porn festival.

Ben and Andrew, who concoct the idea during a night of boozing and bong hits with a group of bohemian, free-thinking friends, are excited by the project, primarily because they know each other so well, and there is no suspicion of any latent homosexual tendencies. “You have to do something that hasn’t been done before,” they say to rationalize their idea. “There’s not a lot of dude-on-dude porn that’s not gay. This is not gay; it’s beyond gay. It’s not porn; it’s art.”

But when the time comes for the camera to roll, things are still going to feel pretty darned . . . well, gay. The third feature by writer-director Lynn Shelton, Humpday is more sex, lies and videotape than Brokeback Mountain: With astute and subtle precision, Shelton burrows deeply inside the psyches of her characters who do not want to admit that they’ve changed considerably since they last saw each other a decade before.

Ben is happily married to the lovely Anna (Alycia Delmore) and has outgrown the immature antics of his college years. The world-roaming Andrew, who thinks of himself as an irrepressible free spirit, is starting to realize that his lifelong refusal to lay down roots — emotional or physical — has brought him only loneliness. The moment they’re reunited, though, Ben and Andrew revert to their college-age hooligan selves, the way male friends often do, unable to be emotionally frank. During a friendly basketball game, they end up on the ground, wrestling for the ball, a hair’s breadth from a real fight, with neither man willing to back down because to do so would imply maturity and adulthood — synonyms for wimpiness and selling out.

The same competitiveness goes for their film project, which is born more from their perpetual games of one-upmanship than any desire to jump into bed. “I don’t think we should do this because neither of us wants to back down,” Ben says at one point, verbalizing the doubt and reluctance that surely also lurk in Andrew’s mind. But neither guy is willing to blink — not even after Anna discovers what they are up to (Delmore’s shell-shocked reaction at hearing about her husband’s cinematic aspirations is one of the movie’s highlights).

Humpday sells its admittedly far-fetched premise by illustrating how men often can’t help but behave like stubborn children in the company of their friends — even when the stakes are raised to ridiculous levels. “Something just hit me,” Ben tells Andrew at one point. “I think we might be morons.” He’s wrong, though. They’re just guys.

Cast: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore.

Writer-director-producer: Lynn Shelton.

A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language, brief nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: South Beach.


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