Hidden Netflix Gems – Humpday

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is undoubtedly one of the most insightful films ever made about friendship between straight males. Though it has a rather high concept hook, Humpday is far from gimmicky, instead opting to explore its characters’ relationships in a loose, naturalistic way. Director Lynn Shelton – whose latest film, Your Sister’s Sister, also explores unusual dynamics of friendship and sex – crafts a coherent, thoughtful and very funny film out of directed improvisations centering around a doozy of a “will they or won’t they” proposition.

Humpday is endearingly honest right from the start, as it opens with a scene that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship, especially one that involves living with a partner. Ben (Mark Duplass) and his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore), lie in bed together, each half-heartedly trying to initiate sex before they both admit, with a sense of relief, that they’re too tired. They are awakened a few hours later by the late-night arrival of Ben’s old college buddy, Andrew (Joshua Leonard, best known as “Joshua Leonard” in The Blair Witch Project), who has continued to live the freewheeling life he and Ben shared in their college days. As the two rekindle their friendship, they discover that each has a certain degree of envy for the other’s life, despite the fact that they wouldn’t actually want to trade places.

Things get more complicated on the second night of Andrew’s stay, when he hooks up with an artist named Monica (Shelton) and invites Ben to have dinner and drinks at her anarchistic, communal home, known as “Dionysus.” It is here that Ben learns of the HUMP! festival, a real-life amateur porn fest that takes place annually in Seattle. As explained by the bohemian artists at Dionysus, it’s more about artistic expression than pornography, and Ben and Andrew joke about the idea of shooting a scene together, despite the fact that they are both straight. In their eyes, this would somehow be a truly unique artistic statement, while also providing an intense and unusual bonding experience for them as friends. When they discuss the idea again in the sober light of day, it becomes a challenge from which neither of them wants to back down; Ben wants to prove he’s not as domesticated as he seems, and Andrew wants to live up to the free spirit Ben believes him to be.

It is fitting that this misbegotten plan begins as a somewhat testosterone-fueled dare, the modern adult male equivalent of sorority sisters being encouraged to make out despite having no real attraction to one another. The eventual porn shoot attempt is brilliantly conceived and executed, a realistic and hilariously awkward sequence that perfectly encapsulates not only the truth of platonic male friendship pushed to its limits, but also the bittersweet revelation that the golden age of that friendship has passed, leaving only fond and funny memories.

  

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A chat with Joshua Leonard of “Humpday”

Joshua LeonardWhen you’re dealing with the press, what topic could possibly overshadow your new, Indie Spirit award-nominated and generally very well received comedy about two more or less ordinary straight dudes who decide to make a porno of themselves having sex…with each other? Well, “Humpday” star Joshua Leonard has had to deal with one of those “be careful what you wish you” show business situations in that the second film he was in about ten years back was an enormously profitable, zero-budget worldwide hit and horror pop-culture phenomenon – one that happens to be referenced in nearly every review of a certain recent zero-budget DIY horror hit.

Still, as one of the three actors/cum camera people/cum screenwriters who endured a deliberately scary and uncomfortable shoot in “The Blair Witch Project,” Leonard has leveraged his decade old flavor-of-the-month status into a solid career as a working actor with scores of credits ranging from the HBO movie “Live from Baghdad” to recent episodes of the new TV series, “Hung,” also on HBO. He’s also become a director. “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary he co-directed, is just hitting home video after a run on the festival circuit, and he recently completed shooting his dramatic feature debut as a writer-director, “The Lie.”

Still, he’s clearly very proud of his involvement in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” alongside costar and previously interviewed fellow film-maker Mark Duplass – now a very close real-life buddy — and happy to have contributed to a new tightly-plotted but improvised movie where there was absolutely no attempt made to convince the world he was dead. His portrayal of Andrew – puppyish Peter Pan, would-be artiste and compulsive traveler/bohemian – remains the extremely funny heart of the film. He’s also, I was happy to find, a really fun guy to talk to. He’s obviously a lot more smarter and 10,000 times more mature than his movie alter-ego, but he’s every bit as easy to hang out with – even on a twenty-minute phone call set up by a publicist.

PH: I don’t always say this, but I really did like “Humpday.” I thought you guys were great.

JL: Thanks, man. What have you hated recently?

PH: [Laughs] I’m a critic, we could blow out entire time talking about that.

JL: [Laughs] That’s what I want to know.

PH: Fortunately, nothing of yours. Okay, so I’m going to ask everyone I talk to on the movie this question….

Just before I saw the movie at the L.A. Film Festival, I had reviewed the DVD for “The Odd Couple.” It was kind of interesting because it was sort of two of the poles of the male bonding thing and of course the whole idea of “bromance” has been  out now. I was just wondering how you thought “Humpday” fit in with all these movies that have been out there on this general topic.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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The boy-men of LAFF, Part 2: “Humpday.”

As stars Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard admitted during the post-screening LAFF Q&A on Friday night, Lynn Shelton’s improvisational comedy “Humpday” was “reverse engineered” from a premise that a lot of straight guys, at least, will no doubt have a hard time swallowing. However, if you take the film as it goes, it develops its premise believably.

The film opens from the point of view of Duplass’s Ben, a happily married guy trying for his first baby with wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). At 1:30 one morning he is greeted with a surprise visitor, Andrew, an impetuous artsy type who has been traveling the world and having various sorts of bohemian adventures. The film sets up two simple ideas that, in a more normal world, should not come into conflict: Ben and Anna love each other quite a bit as husband and wife; Ben and Andrew love each other quite a bit as best friends.

The problem is that Ben may not be quite as thoroughly comfortable in committing to a lifelong domestic role as he might first appear. The following night, a party with Andrew’s cute new hook-up, her lesbian girlfriend, and various bohemian friends of various sexual preferences leads to a discussion of Seattle’s real-life amateur art-porn video contest, Hump Fest. In turn, that leads Ben, attending without Anna, to an inspiration. With pretty much everything under the sexual sun already committed to video, the only thing left with which you can make any kind of statement or push any envelope would be the spectacle of two straight guys somehow managing to have sex with each other.

Instead of dying the death you’d expected an idea like that to die once the booze and the pot wears off, it takes on a life of its own as Ben pushes Anna to the margins and winds up in the most humorously counterintuitive macho pissing contest ever committed to film. During a rough basketball game, he and Andrew nearly come to blows, and the issue somehow turns out to be who has the artistic/creative gumption to actually commit to the “project.” It’s an inherently funny premise for exploring the old issue of competition between close male friends, explored to more dramatic effect in “Jules and Jim,” Joachim van Trier’s “Reprise,” and probably a bunch of other movies I can’t remember right now. It’s also more poignant than you might think, because, for all his artistic aspirations, Andrew hasn’t actually completed any projects yet.

For an improvised film, this is a nicely-acted, witty, and thoughtful piece of work with plenty of laughs, even if Ben’s beyond-shabby treatment of the very tolerant Anna stretches believability for a guy who’d perhaps like to stay married.  The only real problem with “Humpday” is that this is a story with no satisfactory resolution. If the guys go ahead and do the deed, then we’ll likely always question whether they were both really all that completely hetero to begin with, and we’re left with no premise. If they don’t do the deed, it’s a bit of a cheat.

I won’t give it away, but it’s telling that, in a film where the plot points were laid out in advance but the dialogue was generally improvised with actors Leonard and Duplass (one half of the improv-comedy filmmaking Duplass brothers) effectively acting as writing collaborators, the decision was made to improvise the resolution as well. Naturally, the result was a let down. Like the rest of the film, however, it is funny and feels fairly real in its disappointment, which might actually be the point.

[Note: If you happen to be reading this on Monday afternoon, 6/22, at about 2:30 p.m., PDT, you have just over two hours to get to Westwood to see the second and final LAFF screeening of “Humpday.” Hurry.]

  

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