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A gleefully self-parodying bromantic comedy, Alex Simmons’ debut feature is a fleet, consistently amusing 80-minute jaunt through the woods as two best buds try to tame the Oregon wilderness with not much more than outsize emotions and humor. Benefitting enormously from Emmy-nominated director Simmons’ extensive documentary-shooting experience, as well as his close collaboration with co-writers/actors Flula Borg and David Giuntoli, Honey Buddies is a comically contagious tribute to male bonding in the great outdoors.
The film doesn’t begin quite so auspiciously, however, after David’s (Giuntoli,) fiancee Frankie (Jeanne Syquia) walks out on him just prior to their wedding, dashing plans for their backpacking honeymoon trip. Utterly disconsolate, he holes up in their apartment for a week, surviving on a diet of rose wine and junk food until his intended best man Flula (Borg) drags him back into the light. “We are going on your honeymoon together,” declares Flula, but David’s far from sold on the idea of seven days in the wilderness with his self-declared best bud.
Flula’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious, however, getting them out into the backcountry in short order, but their momentum flags when the trail, which David has selected to prepare for an upcoming acting role about the Lewis and Clark expedition, proves a bigger slog than expected. Eventually they hit their stride and by the third day things are going so well that Flula unpacks a pair of safety-orange colored T-shirts emblazoned with the German phrase “honig kumpel” (“honey buddies”) and David begins to shed some of his gloom.
A campout with a cute hiker and her group of singing and guitar-playing pals boosts David’s spirits further, but Flula’s expansive personality gets in the way of any romantic possibilities, leading to a blowup as the two separate to continue their journey solo. Whether David will be able to reconcile his split with Flula so that they can conclude their trip together may depend on if he can resolve his emotions over his breakup with Frankie, and that seems speculative at best.
The film’s overlay of American frontier history is offered more jokingly than literally, as David tries to get into his role of William Clark, envisioning Flula as Meriwether Lewis by interspersing voiceover commentary from the pair’s travel accounts throughout the film. The period veneer contrasts with David and Flula’s contemporary sensibilities and the script (credited to Simmons and his lead actors) has great fun exteriorizing Honey Buddies’s barely concealed homoerotic subtext. David and Flula are frequently taken for a couple on their hiking trip, with Flula repeatedly misidentified as Frankie, David’s fiancee. Simmons’ shooting technique closely associates the two visually from one scene to the next and Flula constantly reminds David of their longtime friendship and “BFFs forever” status, yielding a series of typically comedic situations.
The film’s infectious spontaneity hints at carefully planned character study animated by narrative improvisation that catalyzes a semi-naturalistic style heightened by playfully appealing humor. Giuntoli, Borg and Simmons are old friends and their familiar shorthand translates into a script proficiently packed with imaginative plot developments, which include a bizarre deep-woods encounter with a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist and a mind-altering mushroom trip.
Comedian, techno DJ and YouTube standout Borg is the wild card and he plays it repeatedly, his considerably off-kilter personality threatening to dominate many scenes before a genuine sense of empathy barely pulls his performance back from the brink of self-parody. Giuntoli specializes in reaction mode, playing the put-upon sad sack until life lessons loom large enough to challenge his capably conveyed rigidity.
Along with Simmons, cinematographers Peter Alton and Michael Lockridge (with an assist from aerial operator Nick Wolcott flying a drone for expansive overhead shots) work magic in the woods, wielding lightweight cameras to shoot more than 90 percent of the film outdoors with natural light, while Simmons adeptly weaves the footage together for a wonderfully scenic visual experience.
Production company: roundthecornerfudge
Cast: David Giuntoli, Flula Borg, Brian T. Finney, Claire Coffee, Jeanne Syquia
Director: Alex Simmons
Screenwriters: Flula Borg, David Giuntoli, Alex Simmons
Producer: Jennifer Wood
Executive Producers: Flula Borg, David Giuntoli, Alex Simmons
Directors of photography: Peter Alton, Michael Lockridge
Editor: Alex Simmons
Music: Gabriel Feenberg
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival (Narrative Features)
Sales: Preferred Content, UTA
Not rated, 80 minutes
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