52 Films By Women: 'Humpday,' Lynn Shelton's Exploration of Male Identity
Humpday was my entry point into the worlds of both Mark Duplass and mumblecore (and the two intersect, but not always). It was the movie that, in interceding years, would lead me to some of my favorite films and TV shows, The One I Love, Togetherness, Laggies, Baghead, The League, Safety Not Guaranteed, and many, many other projects.
It’s a weird entry point in that world, however, because the premise is genuinely bizarre and — if you don’t trust Lynn Shelton and Mark Duplass — off-putting. It’s about two competitive, testosterone-driven, straight best friends, who engage in a drunken bet to fuck each other. There’s zero physical attraction between the two, no one is disguising their feelings. It really is a pseudo-macho posturing dare to fuck each other.
If this movie had starred Bradly Cooper and Ashton Kutcher and had been directed by Todd Phillips, it would’ve been a homophobic disaster. But somehow, Lynn Shelton pulls this off, and she really does, because this movie is not about the act itself. It’s about the process. It’s about two men psyching each other up to fuck each other, and they don’t need to be psyched up because having anal sex is weird. They need to be psyched up because having sex with your best friend is weird.
It’s not a novelty movie, either. It’s not one prolonged set up to a bad joke. It’s an intelligent, sophisticated, and deeply profound relationship comedy about two men who love each other, but who don’t love each other that way. Ben (Duplass) is a married guy who has settled into routine married life with a woman he adores and with whom he is trying to have a baby. One day, Andrew (Joshua Leonard) — Ben’s lifelong best friend — knocks on their door and disrupts their idyllic nighttime routine.
Andrew — Mr. Motorcycle man — is a single adventurer, parties a lot, travels the world and is living the life, and there’s a part of Ben — while still insanely happy with his own life — that misses the life he once led with Andrew. With this context as a backdrop, the two get drunk, find out about this amateur porn contest, and decide to enter on a dare.
It’s in the act of trying to have sex with each in a hotel in front of a video camera that Ben and Andrew ultimately come to terms with who they are, what’s missing from their respective lives, and what they mean to each other. It’s sweet, and funny, and ironically for a movie about two men trying to have sex, a rare and illuminating exploration of male platonic love.
It’s a remarkable relationship film, and one that really benefits from the direction of Lynn Shelton (who also wrote the movie), who coaxes sensitive performances out of macho characters. It’s a movie written and directed by a woman that deftly explores male identity and the nature of sexuality while forcing these two men to take stock and reflect on their lives. It’s funny and uncomfortable and genuine and full of human emotions, and it’s a movie likely to stick with me for many more years to come.
Related Mindhole Blower: Lynn Shelton is married to one of the early MTV VJs.