Ben (Mark Duplass) is a man who feels he has struck a happy medium in his life. Once a full bore bohemian/hippie/artisan, he is now married and working a regular job. There is talk of children, and soon. Of course, he’s married to a suitably hip woman(Alycia Delmore) and lives in a suitably hip part of town, so he doesn’t have to feel like he’s completely given up on the aesthetic and philosophical ideals of his college days. He’s softened some of his edges, but he’s still that same person who smoked pot and made art. He hasn’t compromised. Right?
Andrew(Joshua Leonard) was Mark’s best friend in college, has taken a different path. He is married to art and exploration, or at least he thinks he is. He’s travelled all over, never owned a piece of furniture, let alone a hosue. But he’s never actually finished an art project, and the older he gets, the more he wonders if he’s really as “out there” as he likes to think he is. Maybe Ben’s settled down life looks better than he’s willing to admit. But one thing he knows for sure, he’d rather be living in a small village in Guatemala and teaching villagers about art than compromising his values by getting married and settling down. Right?
“Humpday” finds these two men on a trajectory of collision. Andrew shows up at Mark’s house early one morning (really, really early) and ends up sleeping in his laundry room. Andrew’s wife is cool with this. But then Mark goes to a party with some of Andrew’s friends, and ends up staying way longer (and consuming more) than he said he told his wife he would, even though she’s putting an amazing dinner on the table…you see where this is going.
Except not really. “Humpday” goes beyond the conventional “stranger in our midst reveals the buried dissatisfactions in a life we thought we loved” trope, though it handles that material admirably. Because at the aforementioned party, a “porn as art” film festival is discussed. And in that discussion, Mark and Andrew agree to make a film. Of themselves. Having sex.
(To keep going with this review, I have to set aside a few of my own convictions that the makers of “Humpday” don’t seem to share. Number one: Pornography isn’t art. Ever. Under any circumstances. Number two: Sex belongs in a committed relationship. Always. Call me a square, agree with me, whatever. But I’m setting these two opinions aside so as to enter in to the world the filmmakers are exploring.)
One of the crazy bohemian sex goddesses/succubi at the party applauds their decision. But pay attention to what she says: if the sex is an expression of their deep bond and care for each other, it will be an incredible work of art. Problem is, that’s not what they’re deciding to do. There isn’t much intimacy between these two guys; there might have been once, but they’ve drifted apart. They approach it like they’re going bunji-jumping: hey man, you can back down if you want, but I’m not going to. I’m in as long as you’re in. Well, I’m in as long as you’re in. Ok then. Let’s do this thing(that neither of us really want to do.) That’s not art. That’s just gross.
The project becomes important to both men for different reasons. Mark wants to prove that he’s still capable of being edgy, bohemian, and artistic; that just because he’s married and has a job doesn’t mean he’s caved to the Man. Andrew is desperate to prove that he’s a real artist, to finish something and be able to point to it as an achievement, a done thing, something more than another nebulous “part of the journey.” Neither has the least iota of desire to have sex with a man. Definitely not each other.
“Humpday” could’ve been icky, or stupid, or crass, or any number of bad things. It’s actually a pretty good movie because it’s not about two straight guys having sex with each other. It’s about two guys, and about identity (sexual and otherwise,) and friendship between men, and communication, and intimacy, and time. Among other things. Like most good movies, it gets bigger the more you think about it. It is funny in parts, but never goes for the lowbrow jokes you’d expect a movie like this to go for. This film was a heckuva lot better than I expected it to be.