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Thread: HUMPDAY (Lynn Shelton 2009)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    HUMPDAY (Lynn Shelton 2009)

    Tell me if I have already posted this. I can't find it. I wanted to add someting, another sign of the growing audience of Mumblecore, as indicated by the current release of Beeswax, which I'm eager to see (not showing in the Bay Area yet) and was given a very favorable review by J. Hoberman this week in THE VILLAGE VOICE, "Andrew Bujalski Grows Up with Beeswax." Andrew Bujalski being perhaps the leading Mumblecore director, this is yet another step forward for this little, but interesting school


    Lynn Shelton: HUMPDAY (2009)

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Going too far with a dare: Mumblecore steps into the mainstream

    Two old friends have a surprise reunion in Seattle a decade after the college days when they were best buds. Ben (Mark Duplass) is married now and doing the job thing. Andrew (Joshua Leonard), bearded and (as appears later) tattooed, is a wanderer and would-be artist who knocks at Tom's door at two in the morning, just back from Mexico City. It's a classic action-starter, theatrical -- it could be a play. And what follows is mostly talk. But it's very good and attention-holding talk.

    Ben and Andrew re-bond noisily, and Duplass and Leonard are great at making the buddy stuff look excessive without ever descending into caricature. Even with Ben's wife Anna (the excellent Alycia Delmore) looking on to provide an alien and female P.O.V., this is fun, but no joke.

    The next day Andrew leads Ben to a house of free lovers he's just met in a bar. They're bi, lesbian, whatever. The hostesses are Lily (Trina Willard), close-cropped and lesbian, and her girlfriend Monica (director Shelton), who likes to mess around with guys too. Tom and Andrew party and get high and have fun. Ben forgets his wife was preparing her special pork chop dinner. To make it worse, she and Ben are trying to make a baby and this is her window of opportunity. The two dudes don't get too wild at the party but it titillates them both. In the spirit of things, they wind up boasting to the ladies that they'll win an impending arty amateur porn movie contest called "Hump Fest" by making a video of two straight guys having sex: them. "It’s not gay; it’s beyond gay," the movie blurb goes; "It’s not porn; it’s art."

    All this flirting and talking is so exciting and fun, Ben doesn't return home till two a.m. There's hell to pay when Anna finds out the next day it was this straight man-sex "hump" movie planning that got in the way of baby-making. But in an intense discussion that's where Humpday's female writer/director comes closest to a feminist slant, Ben and Anna agree each must acknowledge the other has a life outside their spousal roles and Anna lectures Ben for acting as if this need was uniquely his. But the need is intense. Ben doesn't know why, but this gay movie challenge is real important to him.

    Humpday has many quietly great moments that are as funny as they are true and Duplass and Leonard, who are superbly matched even to their chubby masculine good looks, deliver performances that are hard to fault. The movie's so appealing, spot-on, and bold it commands attention and deserves high praise, and it could push the Mumblecore school of filmmaking headlong into the mainstream. I can imagine the audience having a ball at Humpday without knowing what the heck Mumblecore is. But Humpday really does have all the earmarks of Mumblecore.

    In fact this is both a triumph of the style and a display of its ultimate limitations. The production values are modest, mise-en-scene is of little importance. The movie consists of a series of improvised conversations, usually one-on-one but occasionally threesomes (at the party there are others, but only the principals and Lily and Monica talk). Because the actors are good, especially Duplass, what comes out of their mouths is unexpected and natural -- and less mumbly and repetitive than the usual Mumblecore stuff. But Mumblecore movies don't really go anywhere. They wander around, problems come up and are resolved or bypassed, and the movie ends. and that's true with Humpday. Mumblecore isn't goal-oriented. It's all in the journey. With Humpday, though, the journey seems quite worthwhile. At least it does if you're interested in learning about contemporary American thirty-something males and their sense of their sexual roles, their needs outside marriage, and how far their bonding can go.

    This particular goal-free Mumblecore journey is one that explores "bromance," the I Love You, Man relationship, where two guys are so affectionate it threatens to morph into gayness, or at least threaten their relationships with women, as is nicely focused in Anna's problem not so much with Andrew, whom she's very accepting of, but Ben and Andrew's nutty project, which finally leads Ben to make the declaration to Andrew, "We're morons." Making a "beyond gay" porn movie that's "a work of art" indeed is a dumb idea. This becomes a challenge the way the Anglo-Saxons were forced into battles or exploits: a drunken boast that, in the interests of male amour-propre, must still be honored when the men sober up and realize what they've gotten themselves into. Humpday is all about the gap between what the two dudes think they are and what they really are. Ben's not as square as Andrew may think, but Andrew's not as "Kerouac" as he thinks.

    There's another challenge inherent in bromance as seen also in I Love You, Man: that some excesses of male bonding are more suited to adolescence than to adulthood. This is highlighted in both movies' matching an overgrown boy with a man who's taken on the responsibilities of married life. Especially since both take place in the Pacific Northwest, Humpday invites comparison with Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, another brief reunion of a guy who's become a mainstream husband and wage earner with a pal living on the edge. Old Joy's a more understated version of the contrast; there isn't that much talk. But in Humpday Ben is really deeply tempted by what Andrew gets him into. I Love You, Man is a jokey mainstream Apatow-factory comedy (the buddies are played by Apatow regulars Jason Segel and Paul Rudd). Old Joy is more haunting and atmospheric. Humpday explores the issues more head-on in a real-time way. In the Mumblecore tradition with a vengeance (while somehow transcending it), Humpday isn't about action at all, only about talk. The conversations are significantly transactional, though. They're not just feinting and dodging or emoting but forcing these two nice boy-men to agree to something. In that sense they're good conversations.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2011 at 06:51 PM.


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