The story and title all suggest something Humpday isn't: an offensive studio comedy, rife with tasteless gay-panic jokes and starring at least one washed-up '90s comedian. Instead, this low-budget art film about two straight men who drunkenly decide to shoot a porno together in the style of a low-budget art film is actually kind of touching, if you can get past the inherent credibility gap.
A dumb Hollywood premise shot with mumblecore verisimilitude, Humpday stars Mark Duplass, one half of the writing, directing and acting team behind the Cassavettian indie films The Puffy Chair and Baghead. He might as well have directed this one, too. The actual writer-director, Lynn Shelton (who also has a small part), apes the already secondhand Duplass style for another round of handheld Xeroxing. Duplass plays Ben, a domesticated hipster married to Anna (Alycia Delmore). Their textbook marriage is almost immediately threatened by an unexpected 2 a.m. appearance from Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a grizzled, nomadic friend from Ben's past who's looking for a place to crash.
A chance meeting with a suburban artists' commune leads Andrew to a night of pot- and alcohol-fueled debauchery, which, in a move totally out of character, Ben joins in on, leaving his dutiful wife at home with a couple of cold meals. Hearing about an amateur porn festival hosted by the local alternative weekly, the two estranged friends come up with the genius idea to shoot a man-on-man porn from the perspective of two straight guys, a 'groundbreakingâ?� concept in their drug-induced states.
Astoundingly, Ben and Andrew retain their promise to make the porno even after the next day's hangover passes, and Humpday unravels into a series of lengthy, uncomfortable conversations between the three principal players: Watch Ben and Andrew discuss the awkward logistics of it; watch Ben squirm as he tries to be open with Anna about his venture; watch the cat leap uncomfortably out of the bag in a late-night drinking session between Andrew and Anna.
The acting and stylistic execution make for some terrific, real-world discomfort, but the premise itself is pure fiction. Most straight men, including these characters, are turned off by the prospect of guy-on-guy action, so the question of 'Why?â?� is paramount, and Shelton offers largely unsuccessful reasons for her protagonists' inexplicable bromantic escapade. Wrestling between wildness and domesticity, freedom and commitment, Ben's weak rationale is, apparently, to prove that he's not a picket-fence square. (He's also given a moment to reflect on a prior same-sex fantasy, which actually undermines and softens the bold straight-guy provocation at the film's heart.) For the more thinly defined Andrew, we can only chalk it up to his freewheeling, bohemian lifestyle, which isn't really enough (to say nothing of the physical obstacle that would prevent anyone without mutual attraction from completing the act).
But as a film about secrets, lies and infidelity at its most peculiar and original, Humpday is another solid Duplass relationship movie, exploring trust issues that make or break couples. The image of a shirtless Duplass and Leonard may sell tickets based on curiosity alone, but it's the naturalistic travails of Ben and Anna that will keep audiences in the theater.