Monday, December 07, 2009

Humpday (2009)

"What exactly about two straight dudes having sex on camera is a great piece of art?"

Such is the question that Ben (on the left) asks his more self-consciously Kerouackian college buddy Andrew as they lie beside each other in a motel bedroom, having dared each other into making a gay porn movie for Humpfest.

Married Ben has found the interlude between college and yuppy lifestyles to be disconcertingly short. Andrew on the other hand is still on the path of the 'motorcycle adventurer dude'.

The set-up is highly promising and the first forty minutes or so are indeed very funny. Many have had one of those mates who appears more like an elephant in the china shop of one's life as relative rates of personal development/compromise diversify after graduation.

Andrew's reappearance in Ben's life and the chums he quickly acquires in Seattle's alternative art scene are wryly observed by writer-director Lyn Shelton, who has pulled up just short of the full-on mockumentary style...which at times leads to the rather distracting impression of an invisible extra participant in a number of scenes.

Having turned up out of the blue one night around 2am Andrew is soon being equipped with a mattress in the spair room by Ben's bleary-eyed wife Anna, who can barely remember him from the wedding. The next evening the friends (minus 'er indoors) get stoned at a hipster house party and somehow get fixated on the idea of making an amateur gay porn movie, the USP of which will be their inherant straightness.

The defects the film develops from this point stem from Ben's question above. Does Shelton want to be funny, complex or indeed arty? She has a go at all three and comes up short in each case, and during the (anti-)climax at the Boning Motel we start to see her script for what it essentially is: a tale about men written by a woman, fashioned to make women laugh and men feel awkward. But by this stage the awkwardness has ceased to be either particularly amusing or observant.

The underlying, under-developed aspect of this narrative is manipulation. As the big day approaches Ben and his wife become less likeable — in his case, almost creepy — while Andrew's vulnerability comes to the fore. If Ben is being driven by the urge to unsuppress an aspect of his nature which committment to Anna and a white collar job had curbed, Andrew 'just wants to finally finish something' in his life. This is as deep as Humpday gets, and working with the same premise I might have further developed the conceit of a yuppy couple taking psychological revenge on a footloose friend (Rather like a reversed-out thriller along the lines of A Perfect Getaway where at first you think the charismatic intruder will end up posing a threat to the conventional couple into whose lives he has suddenly erupted, when in fact it is they who are the twisted fucks!)

Update: If the whole thing was improvised I can see why the standard of comedy and observation fluctuated. Given that the characters and situations were not made up in real-time, it still strikes me that whatever motivations the actors had established for their characters and whatever guidance Shelton provided at the outset lacked the staying power for either a really funny or a really thought-provoking ending.

Grade: B


Anonymous said...

You criticize Shelton's "script" when, in fact, this entire movie was improvised dialogue. There was no script. And Joshua Leonard was in the TV series, HUNG, not the film THE HANGOVER, as you report.

El Blogador said...

Fair comments, both