Humpday | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published September 2, 2009 at 6:50 a.m.

When you probably last ran into him, in The Blair Witch Project, Joshua Leonard was scared, but in Humpday he’s downright terrified. He plays Andrew, a bohemian world wanderer who suspects deep down he’s not the artist he’s long claimed to be, and who shows up unannounced at 2 in the morning on the Seattle doorstep of a college bud he hasn’t seen in a decade. Luckily for Andrew, Ben — played by Mark Duplass — has changed, but not that much. He has a 9-to-5 job, a mortgage and a Mrs. (Alycia Delmore), but his inner dude is alive and well.

Ben is genuinely overjoyed to be dragged out of bed by his old friend, who has just returned from Mexico. Anna is the picture of a cool, unflappable wife. They prepare a place for their unexpected guest to crash, and the two men reminisce and catch up late into the night. The third feature from Seattle director Lynn Shelton, Humpday is that rarest of achievements: a movie in which the dialogue is largely improvised but nonetheless wickedly funny and insightful. Rather than simply informing Andrew, for example, that he and his wife are trying to make a baby, Ben explains, “We’ve officially removed the goalie, and now we’re just doing free kicks.” That’s a line that could make Judd Apatow jealous.

Fear not: This isn’t one of those comedies like You, Me and Dupree about the home-wrecking high jinks that ensue when a wild and crazy visitor injects chaos into a domestic routine. Far from it. This is one of those comedies whose subject is the parameters of male bonding, the true meaning of the immortal declaration, “I love you, man,” and what happens when two straight guys resolve to have sex with each other on film. Which is to say, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Within hours of blowing into town, Andrew has befriended a household of free-living, hard-partying artsy types and attached himself to one half of a lesbian couple (played by the director), who swings both ways. Summoned to the scene, Ben assures Anna by cell that the boys will be home in plenty of time to partake of the pork-chop dinner she’s preparing. Instead, they wind up imbibing much wine and beer, smoking multiple spliffs and then joining in a discussion of an upcoming amateur porn contest — which provides the picture with its title, and which actually exists. Stoned out of their minds, the two old friends attempt to outcool their hard-to-shock hosts by announcing their intention to enter the competition. And each other.

“It’s not gay; it’s beyond gay,” they rationalize. “It’s not porn; it’s art.” Shelton does a superb job of cataloguing the series of psychological states through which the characters pass between the morning after their pronouncement and the evening scheduled for the shoot in a nearby motel. Neither wants to be the one to back down, though you can see in their eyes that either would jump at the chance to laugh the whole business off. For example, the director stages a telling scene in which a session of shooting hoops in Ben’s driveway escalates into a display of aggression, as though each guy feels a need to ensure his masculinity is not in question. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of breaking the news to Anna.

Like so much in the movie, this does not unfold as one might expect. A succession of comic miscommunications takes place before Anna stuns Ben with a revelation of her own. If he harbored a secret hope she’d stand in his way, thereby letting him off the hook, it is abandoned in short order.

And then the big night arrives. Ben enters the rented room carrying a home video camera. Andrew walks through the door moments later. As I watched them confront the moment of truth, it occurred to me that the previous 80 or so minutes had consisted of not only some of the funniest and most observant filmmaking I’ve witnessed this year, but the most suspenseful as well. Will Tom Hanks solve Dan Brown’s latest over-the-top puzzle in time? Will Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds find true love against seemingly insurmountable odds? These are the kinds of questions we are accustomed to waiting in the dark to have answered. But believe me, for all the disparity in budget, production values, special effects and star power, they can’t hold a candle to Are these two dudes really going to do each other?

Movie-critic law forbids my even hinting at how it all turns out and, naturally, I wouldn’t if I could. The climactic sequence — so to speak — is an exquisitely dandy surprise. Something, come to think of it, that can be said of Humpday itself.