Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K
This comedy about gayness just keeps it at arm's length.
It’s interesting that Humpday and Bruno come out on the same day, because as different as they ultimately are as films, they tread on similar territory. (Full-disclosure: I have not seen Bruno as of this writing, and this is, for all intents and purposes, a review of Humpday.) They’re both about subverting the norm when it comes to homosexuality, and are about doing it in a seemingly perverse way. The comparison only goes so far since no one will accuse Bruno of being thoughtful or subtle, but it certainly says something about the way that we (or at least the way Hollywood thinks) want to be having this conversation.
Humpday is based around the question of what would happen if two straight men had sex. Could they do it? And if so, does that make them gay? And, ultimately would it be art? The last question comes from their desire to film the act and submit it to Hump!, Seattle’s yearly amateur porn film festival sponsored by the independent newspaper, The Stranger. (Submissions are due September 21st if want to enter click here!) The two guys in question are Ben (played by Mark Duplass, the mumblecore director of films like The Puffy Chair) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard of The Blair Witch Project), two college buddies reunited when Andrew arrives unexpectedly at Ben’s door one night. Ben has a nice perfect domesticated life with a wife and a job, while Andrew is a drifter, basically, trying to make his way, supposedly in the art world. They’re the kind of dudes who are always trying to one up each other and when the idea for the porn comes up, you never quite know (despite what they tell each other) whether they want to do it, or they’re just trying to prove to the other that they can.
The whole thing leads to a lot of thoughtful introspection about the straight guy’s relationship with homosexuality, awkward and anxiety-ridden as it can be for even the most open-minded dudes, which is what Ben and Andrew consider themselves to be. Most interesting though are the discussions Ben has with his wife, Anna (the wonderful Alycia Delmore), about marriage and being in that certain place in your life—getting over the hump, so to speak. The heart of the movie might be the friendship between the two men, but Anna is the voice of reason, and her scenes were among my favorites in the movie.
So what does it all mean? I won’t give away whether they go through with it or not, but I will say that the last few minutes of the film are among the most awkward (in a good way) that I’ve ever seen. The actors all embody their characters in such a way that it always feels real and genuine, and so when they’re in this tense position, you really feel it. It’s also a really funny film, in a way, and so it does work on more than one level.
But ultimately how it compares to Bruno is that they’re both movies about gayness being made by and for straight people. Bruno is as ridiculous as Humpday is quiet, but they put themselves at distance from it. Bruno does it by rubbing stereotypes in people’s faces, and Humpday does it by not really including any real gay characters in the story (there are gay women, but only in the periphery). I certainly liked Humpday, but as liberal, and open-minded, and perverse as it wants you to believe it is, it certainly owes more to Judd Apatow than, say, John Waters.