Written by: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard
Love and friendship between two men can reach such fascinating levels because of the patriarchal system we live in and the expectations imposed on men and how they can interact with everyone around them. Men can say they love their male friend, but it must be accompanied by “bro” at the end to not give a hint of any romantic feelings. Such an odd thing but something that gets conditioned to the point where the author of this review has felt the need to feel weird about this dynamic. Humpday takes this on directly with some lovable characters amidst quite the bonkers idea.
Living a good and calm life, Ben (Mark Duplass) gets a recent visit from his college friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard). Both have lived very different lives since finishing their collegiate studies but while high at a party, they make the pact that they will film a gay porno as two straight men and submit it to a film festival. Sobering up, they begin to have their doubts but really wrestle with whether or not they should actually go through with it.
Films like Humpday will always be precious in the way it breaks down man-to-man relationships in a way that nearly ever receives much exposure. Part of that comes from the perception of masculinity that has been pervasive in much of western culture where the height of accomplishment comes from conquering women and barely displaying any affection towards the same sex. This has broken down quite a bit with an acceptance of different types of masculinity, but the misogynistic view still dwells under the surface through the conditioning and rears its ugly head out on occasion. It symbolizes what makes this feature so invigorating in its approach with the message being better than the actual filmmaking on display.
Remaining the defining aspect is the screenplay by Lynn Shelton as opposed to the direction. The way it breaks down the relationship between these two men brings so much sentimentality and creates a game of chicken between them. With this pact made while both were high, backing out at any point certainly would not be looked down upon. One certainly cannot be held responsible for anything binding in a state of an altered mindset. However, the way both of them remain committed with this hint of almost wanting the other to back out so they do not have to simmers for much of the film in such a fascinating way. This porno they’re set to make means more of a statement of their relationship and the love they have for each other as friends more than the actual sexual activity. They disguise this under the idea of creating art and making a statement but the whole thing works as an allegory for their friendship and how it gets navigated with so much time having passed since they last spoke.
The direction, however, is where the film loses some of its steam as scenes are not shot in the most captivating way. In a way, it feels stodgy compared to the beauty of what occurs subliminally. Part of it becomes understandable considering this most certainly comes together as a piece of independent art with a limited budget, but more could have been done to further amplify these discussions. It’s not to say the direction is bad, but it holds the film back from being even much better. The more simplistic style of it does the script no favors, which does so much of the heavy lifting along with the cast.
Mark Duplass’s career fascinates me to no end because you get the feeling the man just loves making movies with his friends no matter the scale. He always appears in small indie comedies and dramedies, while serving as a highlight in each of them. Duplass did the same here, once again, this time collaborating with Lynn Shelton. These two work together so well as he takes her words and delivers them with a sense of mild confusion because his character’s life ultimately receives the biggest shock to the system through this narrative. Acting opposite of him as part of the bromance of Joshua Leonard, who portrays a good metaphorical tornado in the life of Ben. Mark and Joshua both just wonderfully match the vibe this film wants to emulate and they give off the feeling that they have been friends for ages.
Beautifully etched together but could have been raised just another level, Humpday provides a refreshing look at what a bromance could look like. It takes the idea of toxic masculinity and slaps it right in the face by embracing its awkward conversations and allowing for them to be broken down with authentic human moments. Such an invigorating watch and one to certainly appreciate amid the toxic nature of masculinity.