Quite where American indie cinema can go next, so thoroughly has it been co-opted by the mainstream, is a big question. Writer-director Lynn Shelton offers, at least, a moderately novel solution with Humpday. A bromedy about two friends who set out to make a gay porn movie, it feels at times like a mumblecore take on a Judd Adaptow movie. Although, of course, while Apatow’s films ultimately serve to reinforce the strengths of the masculine dynamic, Shelton seems to set out to dig around in the frailties of the male ego.
Ben and Andrew are old college friends whose lives have quite clearly diverged. Ben is now married, living in Seattle. He owns a house, has an office job, and with his wife Anna is planing to start a family. He has become, to some degree, “picket fence”; while Andrew is now “a bit Kerouac”, living as a itinerant artist everywhere from Mexico to Columbia. Andrew arrives at Ben’s house unannounced in the wee small hours, and the pair find themselves reverting, with ease, to their old college-buddy routine. But it’s more than just heterosexual one-upmanship; to some extent, Ben and Andrew are jealous of each other’s lives. Ben wishes he could have some of Andrew’s free-spirit, while for his part Andrew admires that Ben has made, at least, something solid from his life. Both men, though, have an unspoken wish to reconnect with their youth while they still can.
At a splendidly entertaining party in a free-sex commune that Andrew drags Ben to, the friends drunkenly decide to enter Humpday – a local amateur porn festival. As you might expect, with the beer flowing and the joints being passed, the idea is ludicrously stupid: they decide to make a gay porn film, the USP being that both men are straight. What comes, then, is an often very funny and well observed take on the complexities and contradictions of male friendship, as Shelton makes her characters explore exactly what it means to them to have sex together on camera. What is says about them, and their relationship. And, indeed, as the film’s strongest female voice, what Anna’s own take on the extraordinary situation might be.
Shelton’s unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall approach gives Humpday a certain intimacy – and, indeed, a considerable squeamishness. The film’s final half hour, with the near-naked Andrew and Ben alone in a hotel room running through the ramifications of shooting the film, is extremely funny and often quite moving. Shelton’s leads – Mark Duplass as Ben and Joshua Leonard as Andrew – are both excellent, running through testosterone-fuelled brinkmanship to quiet meditation about their own friendship.
Right. Off to see Shane Meadows’ Le Donk. I’ll report back about that one later today.