Tuesday, July 28, 2009


A Coupla White Guys Sitting Around Talking. And Talking. And Talking: Mark Duplass, left, and Joshua Leonard in Lynn Shelton's "Humpday"
I wish I could muster up the same enthusiasm for Lynn Shelton's "Humpday" that other cinéphiles have demonstrated.

I certainly looked forward to it even though, these days, indie films have become the bane of my moviegoing existence. Too many of them are as depressingly formulaic and predictable as your average assembly-line studio product. And "Humpday" is yet another indie that made something of a flashy impression in the rarified atmosphere of film festivals.

It's played quit a few and it's effectively beguiled its supporters.

But, frankly, it left me cold, despite its compelling subject: Two buddies - one a rather straight married man (Mark Duplass), a dull suburbanite who enjoys conventional sex with his wife, and the other an unapologetic slacker and Woody Harrelson lookalike (Joshua Leonard) - get drunk one night and decide to shoot a man-on-man sex film for HumpFest, the annual porno film festival of The Stranger, the Seattle alternative.

Then they sober up and their male insecurities get in the way.

Much like Paul Mazursky's "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" from 40 years ago, Shelton's film tickles and teases and then politely excuses itself and cops out. The guys agree, the deal's off. Way off.

"Humpday" is more annoying than most indies in the way that it tries to make its subject palatable for even the art-house crowd. Shelton has seemingly encouraged her drug-and-booze-addled characters to nervously laugh or giggle with each line of dialogue - you know, to illustrate how hip they are to the idea or how embarrassed by it they are.

Everyone seems to be in a slaphappy daze here (including Shelton herself who, in a small role, laughs the most), and Duplass exacerbates matters by reading most of his lines while rubbing the sleep out of his corners of his eyes ad infinitum. After a while, he had me doing the same thing.

Leonard, not to be outdone in the area of annoying tics, essentially plays the bongo drums on his naked chest once the coitus is interrupted.

About an hour into the film, Alycia Delmore (as Duplass's wife) redeems the affair with bit of knock-out acting with her character's jaw-dropping reaction to her husband's decision to bang his buddy. It's like five minutes of reality surrounded by 90 minutes of male fantasy, bi-curious-style.

All in all, a missed opportunity.


Carrie said...

Well, Joe, we part company on this. I think the film is about testing whether homosociality equals homosexuality and, if not, where the boundary is. I also thought Alycia Densmore was marvelous. Like a lot of improvised features (including those of Mike Leigh), there was a lot of ums and ers and cliches. But I appreciate your POV

John Kaiser said...

The title alone made feel like passing on this one anyway.

joe baltake said...

Carrie- Yes, alas, we do disagree on this one. I'm clearly in the minority here. Critics and friends whose taste I admire - such as yours - like it. The idea behind it, as I stated, is a provocative one, but it's seriously diminished - for me, at least - by all the bespotted giddiness. The whole thing felt like a raunchy slumber party that fizzles out rather than ends. As for the improvised acting, that may account for the lead actor constantly rubbing his eyes. I can't tell you how much that distracted and annoyed me.

Blake said...

Personally, I never assume a movie like “Humpday” is for the happy few who patronize art houses. Plenty of people are capable of appreciating its improvisational style and all other no-budget aspects even if they prefer smoother films. But a certain segment of the culture encourages voices like Shelton, it seems, and so this film will be on the radar for a little while - perhaps longer than "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry."

Roger said...

This movie brought to mind an indie from the late '80s called "Patti Rocks." Remember it? It was supposed to lead to something for all involved. It didn't.