Lynn Shelton has managed to do what few of the fairer sex have accomplished – infiltrate the psyche of the male species. (Yes, amazing as it may seem, men do have a psyche…and it may even be located above the waist!) And thanks to this insightful wisdom, with HUMPDAY, Shelton brings us an uproariously funny, rollicking romp into the world of bromance by way of the fictional porn film festival known as “Hump Fest”.
Now, I know, when you hear the word “humpday” you think of Wednesday, that day in the middle of the week. That day where we actually see the light at the end of the tunnel of a hellacious work week. Well, Shelton now sheds new light on the new meaning to the word with the story of Ben and Andrew.
Best friends in college, Ben and Andrew have each gone their separate ways, each living his own dream and with paths now crossing only by the occasional post card or phone call. Married to the lovely Anna, Ben is living the once-upon-a-time-pre-recession American Dream. A Home, two cars, two incomes, desire to have a child. Andrew, on the other hand, is still stuck in frat boy land, living only to party, and I do mean party, especially since he lives in some of the most fertile pot-growing areas of the United States. Still a wild child, Andrew lives from moment to moment, party to party, travelling the world over enjoying wine, women and song…and a few other things. Something that with the arrival of each postcard from Andrew, Ben vehemently denies wanting. But what happens when Ben and Anna get a late night pounding on their front door only to have Andrew come lumbering in?
Determined to have an entertaining night at home and give the poor hotel-living Andrew a home cooked meal of Anna’s famous pork chops, things take a little turn when Ben heads out to retrieve Andrew and bring him home for dinner. Seems that thanks to Andrew’s “slightly” outgoing personality, he has made some new friends during the day and is already in the throws of party enjoyment at a home that welcomes you with the door hanging, Dionysus. Get the picture? Now, although Ben and Andrew (as with most of those of the male persuasion) may appear to be “men” on the outside, they have never quite lost that frat boy mentality which makes it particularly easy for Andrew to weave his magical spell on Ben. Encouraging him to “stay awhile” and be sociable, it doesn’t take long for Ben to cast away responsibility and all of its trappings – remove the tie, pull out the shirt tail, muss the hair – and re-enter Andrew’s world of fun and frolic.
Thanks to the consumption of a lot of alcohol and even more weed, and the passage of time (uh oh, what’s Anna up to?), it doesn’t take long for the party conversation to turn to Seattle’s porn film festival. (Down boys, down! Yes, there are many porn festivals out there. Truth really is stranger than fiction.) But for our boys, the discussion takes on new meaning as they opine that the only worthwhile award winning film would be one starring them as two straight friends having sex. And while this idea may be the result of drunken ramblings, the introspective thoughts it provokes cause each to take pause and look at the lives they are leading – and while they are at it, shoot a sure fire festival winner – a gay porn between two straight men…them! And tell your wife! WHAT?! Now, now, I know what you’re thinking, but stop. Because this is where the real hilarity begins. Of course one must bear in mind that according to Ben and Andrew, a film of this caliber is only being done for the sake of “art.”
Mark Duplass, the acting half of the filmmaking Duplass Brothers who brought us “The Puffy Chair” and recently “Baghead” (one of my Top Twenty films of 2008), stars as the straight-laced Ben while veteran Joshua Leonard tackles the party hearty Andrew. Duplass is ever amiable, likeable, believable and straightman funny “dude” to the core. His visual and physical expressiveness in response to situations and dialogue as a rule, is priceless, guaranteeing more laughs than you can chug a six-pack at. And as for Joshua Leonard, he is simply irresistible as Andrew. A little boy in a grown-up suit, he is flaky to a fault with an immature effervescence and exuberance that you can’t help but love. Rounding out core cast of characters is Alycia Delmore as Anna. I admit, I was quite surprised at Delmore’s performance and the direction taken by Lynn Shelton in Anna’s creation. Un-naggy, tolerant, but “pissy” when her husband stays out all night, Delmore is clothed in reality. But, then she brings an edge to the performance with casual dinner table revelations about Anna’s own sexual yearnings and revelations that make you, the audience, sit up and go ‘what’!!! Very interesting spin and reactive development by both Shelton and Delmore. But again, thanks to Delmore’s skill, very believable. Put together, Duplass, Leonard and Delmore have an incredible chemistry with each fueling and feeding off of the other. It’s a wonderful interplay to watch.
Relying on a good deal of ad-lib and non-sensical mumbo jumbo, writer/director Shelton captures the true essence and humor of the characters and the situation, further solidifying for all women out there that men are morons; maybe cute and adorable, but still morons. Dialogue heavy, Shelton also pays great attention to male interactions, capturing it perfectly, eliciting an innocent sense of male vulnerability. Walk into any bar, any meeting, any event and then look at this film and you will see what I mean – particularly men under the influence. An yes, boys will be boys and yes, size does matter – size of a prank, a dare, a deal, I can out drink you, I can do more push-ups than you, bed more girls than you, etc. She brings a subtlety to each character and the situation that is only enhanced by the talents of her actors, and particularly Duplass and Leonard, who bring so much of themselves to the screen. What I find most appealing about Shelton’s style of writing and directing is the way she attacks the humor in the uncomfortableness of a situation, yet does so with a free light hand, slowly turning the tables into tension filled, “OMG! Are they really going to do that?” moments. Just watch the boys in a hotel room with camera rolling, flabby bellies touching as they. . . . (No spoiler here! Go see the film!) Shelton also tells a story about growing up, taking on responsibilities and assuming the responsibility of your own actions and decisions, all which hit you without your realizing it.
Shot on a minimal budget in true independent style, the film has a technical continuity that is engaging and supportive of the story, although some of the more dramatic moments could have been chopped down to effectuate better pacing. Given Shelton’s background as an editor, I am surprised at some of the obviously unnecessary length of certain scenes from a director’s standpoint.
For those of you that missed out on HUMPDAY at Los Angeles Film Festival, Sundance or any of the other myriad of film festivals around the country, don’t despair, because it starts hitting the big screen theatres this weekend around the country.
At the end of the day, boys will boys and bros will be bros. And HUMPDAY will make your day – with laughter.
Ben – Mark Duplass
Andrew – Joshua Leonard
Anna – Alycia Delmore
Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton.