Monday, 17 September 2012

Film Review | Humpday (2009)

At one point during Humpday, when asked  by his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) the reason behind wanting to make a gay porn film with his straight friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard), Ben's (Mark Duplass) reply is pretty futile. He simply says he doesn't know why he wants to do it, but that he knows its something he has to do. With motivations this weak, a film centred around such a potentially inflammatory concept cannot hope but do anything but disappoint.

As I've already alluded to, the premise behind Humpday is pretty straightforward. Duplass and Leonard's characters are old college friends who haven't seen each other in years, until Andrew returns from travelling the world by turning up unannounced on Ben and Anna's doorstep at two o'clock one morning. The following night, during a conversation influenced heavily by alcohol and drugs, the two agree to make a gay porn film and enter it into a local "art" festival. It may be an agreement fuelled by intoxicating substances, but the next morning neither man is willing to back down.

Whilst Humpday was seemingly an acclaimed addition to the "mumblecore" genre, which entails low budget filming, a pervading sense of realism and high levels of improvisation by the actors, I genuinely struggled to find anything within it I actually liked. The main characters are repellent: Duplass' Ben is spineless and aimless, seemingly willing to throw away a happy and comfortable life with Delmore's Anna at the drop of a hat. We find out pretty early on that Ben and Anna are trying for a baby, making Ben's actions towards his wife either all the more unbelievable or all the more despicable depending on your outlook; either way, his flippant attitude towards becoming a father is a selfish act which the film never manages to address.

Whilst Ben is a despicable invertebrate, Andrew is simply an arsehole of the highest order, either oblivious to or uncaring about the human wreckage he leaves behind. From the moment Andrew gambols into Ben and Anna's home and lives in the middle of the night, it's hard not to take an immediate dislike to the character. Andrew's personality is a grating mixture of new-age hippie and obnoxious man-child for whom it is impossible to feel any empathy or affection. With the supporting cast populated by free-spirited artists both annoyingly stereotypical and just annoying, the only sympathetic character within the film is Anna, although her character arc takes her from patient and caring to unrealistically forgiving, meaning even she ends up as ultimately unsatisfying.

The plot doesn't fare much better, the problem being that writer, producer and director Lynn Shelton is under the impression that she's hit on such an ingenious and captivating premise that her film will just fall into place around it. It doesn't. The concept of a gay porn film made by two straight men is novel, but not nearly enough to drive the entire film by itself. Nor does the film offer any deeper meaning or message behind its core idea, reducing the act Ben and Andrew intend to perform to its most base level. At best, it's a misfired attempt at crude humour; at worst, it's offensively dismissive, maybe even homophobic.

The film is littered with scenes which linger far too long and seem to have little point behind them. A basketball shootout between Ben and Andrew which descends into juvenile one-upmanship for example feels embarrassing, self-indulgent and adds very little to the characters from what we already know. The final act provides a major anticlimax, uninspired and overlong, ending the film on a whimper befitting its thinly stretched premise. Humpday is a disappointing shadow of the potential its concept holds; unfocused, irritating and, most of all, really quite dull.


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