The mumblecore genre goes adult in more ways than one with “Humpday,” a comedy about a couple of longtime buddies — both straight men — who decide to make a gay porn film together.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton has said she’d prefer not to have her third feature classified as part of the mumblecore movement, indies known mostly for featuring twentysomethings who sit around and talk about themselves. Nevertheless, many of the trademarks are undeniably there: the low-budget aesthetic, the naturalism of the dialogue and the unabashed solipsism. These are people who are interested in themselves and others like them, and if you’re interested in them too, that’s cool. But if not, no worries.
Regardless of labels, “Humpday” marks a maturation of this style: For one thing, the characters are in their early 30s and one of them has a steady job, a house and a wife with whom he’s trying to start a family. (He happens to be played by actor-filmmaker Mark Duplass, who was behind such mumblecore staples as “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” with his brother, Jay.) Also, there’s a discernible plot with actual tension. “Humpday” has a lot of intentionally awkward laughs but it also has some quiet, intimate moments that will make you hold your breath, wondering how they might play out.
Ben (Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) are old college pals who haven’t seen each other in a decade. When world-traveler Andrew shows up on Ben’s suburban doorstep in the middle of the night, they easily return to a teasing, brotherly banter. Then at a booze-and-drug-fueled party the next night, they wind up daring each other to have sex on camera — supposedly in the name of art for an amateur film contest.
“It’s beyond gay,” Ben insists in justifying the endeavor.
Once they sober up the following day, neither of them is willing to back down, which forces them both to confront their identities and motivations. Duplass and Leonard have such great chemistry and their improvised exchanges feel so natural, they make this premise easier to believe than you might expect.
Shelton shows great insight into the contradictory mind of the modern man. But another of the film’s great charms is the strength of its chief female character, Ben’s wife Anna, played by Alycia Delmore. So often in mainstream comedies that explore deep male friendships, women are an afterthought; they’re naggy and shrill if they exist at all. Anna is as fully formed as Ben and Andrew, and she’s incredibly cool and down to earth. She also reacts exactly the way you’d expect a wife to react upon learning that her husband is on the verge of making a gay porn movie — especially when he should be focusing his sexual energy on her during this crucial baby-making time.
The pacing lags here and there, which can be a common problem with a stripped-down approach that attempts to recreate realism, and Shelton’s use of shaky, hand-held camera grows tiresome. But Ben and Andrew’s climactic hotel-room scene, if you will, remains unpredictable — and, oddly sweet.