Humpday -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- When your characters get a bad idea in the first act, the challenge for a filmmaker is how to get as much mileage -- in this case, comic mileage -- out of that bad idea without the bad idea taking over. "Humpday" writer-director Lynn Shelton manages a couple of funny-bone ticklers in her second act, but in the third she's stuck with the bad idea and has nowhere to go.

Although destined for further festival dates after is dramatic competition debut at Sundance, "Humpday" is a long shot for a theatrical acquisition. The audience that would appreciate this buddy comedy with a curious twist will be limited.

Ben (Mark Duplass) is easing into the marriage business with an adorable wife in Anna (Alycia Delmore), a steady job, and a mind set on beginning a family. Then his past catches up to him with a loud knock at the door at 2 a.m. This would be Andrew (Joshua Leonard), his free-living buddy from college who has never grown up.

Within 24 hours, Ben momentarily reverts to his wild youth with Andrew. He finds himself at a booze-soaked, pot-smoked party among people with a fluid sense of sexuality. The one constant is that everyone deems him or herself an artist.

When the idea of entering an amateur porn contest called Humpfest arises, it is Ben no less who insists that to win such a contest you have to make a film so "weird that it pushes boundaries." This inspires the bad idea: the film should feature Ben and Andrew, two very straight men, having sex together. This revolutionary art project would go "beyond gay."

Such a bad idea should evaporate once hangovers dissipate the next day. But much is made in the film about the contrast between the two old friends' lifestyles. So Andrew has a large stake in maintaining his bohemian/vagabond image of a guy who will do anything, and Ben needs to demonstrate that despite appearances he is not a conventional guy. So neither one finds a way to back down without losing face.

Shelton never follows up on the film's satirical possibilities. The characters' definitions of art and its "boundaries" would have been amusing to explore. Then, too, critics are forever commenting on the homoerotic undertones in buddy movies. Well, this would be no undertone.

Instead Shelton plays out an all-too-conventional sitcom that gets its main laughs from characters talking at cross-purposes. The best scene has Andrew and Anna excitedly discussing the Humpfest project without Anna being aware of its real story line.

The interesting thing here is that this upside-down buddy movie by a woman keeps the female roles all much smaller and yet theirs are the most interesting roles. Because she can react with jaw-slackened incredulity to much that happens, Delmore's Anna wins the film's best laughs. Although featured in only two sequences, Andrew's bisexual love interest (played by the filmmaker) and her girlfriend (Trina Willard) come off as much more charismatic and interesting characters than the two men. What they are open to -- and what they are not open to -- in bed with Andrew reveals more about them in a mere snapshot than do the endlessly long takes between Andrew and Ben.

So maybe "Humpday" needed more characters and a less claustrophobic atmosphere. Maybe the film needed to be bolder and break a few boundaries itself. Maybe it could have better explained why these two men still need to be friends. Whatever the case, it certainly needed a better payoff.

Production company: Seashell Pictures
Cast: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard
Director-screenwriter-producer: Lynn Shelton
Executive producer: Dave Nakayama
Director of photography: Benjamin Kasulke
Production designer: Jasminka Vukcevic
Music: Vinny Smith
Editor: Nat Sanders
No rating, 94 minutes
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