Knight at the Movies Archives
Mumblecore goes gay - or does it - in Lynn Shelton's winning friendship comedy
“Mumblecore goes gay” is the shorthand description that a lot of reviewers are using to describe Humpday the indie slacker
comedy from writer-director Lynn Shelton in which two straight dudes contemplate “bonin’ each other” for the sake of an amateur
porn contest. Though the film certainly lies within the comfy confines of the genre – it’s a low budget relationship movie utilizing
improvised scripts and non-professional actors – the film’s tagline “it’s beyond gay” is a more apt description of this good natured
comedy because it’s essentially a movie about two friends who have emotionally grown in different ways. The gay stuff is just an
excuse for two guys to examine how their lives have changed. What we actually have in Humpday is the male, mumblecore variation
on The Banger Sisters.
The performances of the cast more than make up for the “outrageous” but relatively unexplored idea at the center of the film,
however. Mark Duplass (practically the dean of mumblecore after The Puffy Chair and Hannah Takes the Stairs, Baghead, etc.) plays Ben
who is married to Anna (Alycia Delmore). Ben is startled but delighted when Joshua Leonard as his childhood friend, the free spirited
Andrew comes knocking on the door of the couple’s Seattle apartment at two in the morning looking for a place to crash. When
Andrew hooks up with a group of free thinkers, including Monica (played by Shelton) and her girlfriend Lily (Trina Willard) who host a
Friday night free for all, he invites Ben to join the festivities. Ben quickly falls into party mode and as the group sit around sharing a
hookah pipe, the talk focuses on Seattle’s legendary amateur porn movie contest called Humpfest.
Before long, the idea of Ben and Andrew having sex on camera is advanced and giggled over (“it’s tender…in the butt” Ben
comments). But the idea quickly fires the imagination of the friends. It also doesn’t hurt that the duo have the free lovin’ lesbian
couple egging them on. The next day, in the midst of the hangover and a reprimand from Anna, Ben and Andrew decide that this
“art project” is a worthy endeavor and dare each other to see it through. But Ben still has to tell Anna and Andrew has to get over his
own hang ups (brought to light at the outset of a three-way with the lesbian couple when Lily pulls out a dildo that freaks out Andrew).
Though there’s a lot of talk about the two dudes (the word is used at least 50 times in the film) “bonin’” each other the duo never
seem to consider the much more provocative idea of the shared intimacy involved in lovemaking as opposed to the strictly physical
act and they take no cues from the lesbian couple, who cuddle and kiss without pretense in front of them when the idea is first
suggested. There’s a great scene where Ben reveals in a long monologue that he once felt attraction for a video store clerk
(beautifully sustained by Duplass who has the same likeable everyman quality that Jason Segel has – which adds enormously to the
film’s charm) but Andrew quickly deflects this and though there’s a hint of suspense and some comedic moments in their anxiety
when the two finally meet up uncomfortably in a nondescript motel room at the climax, the movie which has begun with such an
attention-grabbing premise, hasn’t added up to much.
I found it interesting (and not surprising) that this potentially provocative idea was advanced by a female writer-director (how would a
straight male director have approached this material?). Would two straight women characters have such hesitations if the situation
were reversed? More interesting still – would the idea of a gay man and a lesbian “bonin’ each other” fall into the realm of a
titillating “art project?” Oh wait, that movie was made in 1978 with Meg Foster and Perry King. It’s called A Different Story and
ultimately it’s just as phony baloney – though not nearly as likeable and entertaining – as Humpday is.
7-22-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
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