While a fringe member of the supposed “Mumblecore” movement, “Humpday” is more of an art-house Will Ferrell comedy than a searing depiction of genital gamesmanship. A tale of gay chicken slathered with a thick coating of verbal wandering, “Humpday” is cute, well acted, but exceptionally trying at times, using an aesthetic reserved for realism to push across a trite frat house concept.
Living a comfortable suburban life with loving wife Anna (Alycia Delmore), Ben (Mark Duplass, “Baghead”) finds his schedule interrupted with the arrival of estranged friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard, “The Blair Witch Project”). A traveling bohemian, Andrew challenges Ben’s uptight lifestyle, loosening him up with drink, drugs, and laughs. In their chemical haze, Andrew proposes that he and Ben make a sex video for the annual “Humpfest” film festival of amateur porn. Agreeing to the idea in the name of art, Ben must immediately contend with Anna’s feelings on the subject along with his own deep-seated homosexual desires. As filming day approaches, both men start to unravel, unsure if what they’re about to do is a statement of personal expression or outright love.
Mumblecore is defined by its intense hold on unfiltered character reaction, pulled from miles of improvisational acting, creating a pocket of realism that eschews the normal Hollywood conventions. It’s a gimmick of sorts, a fancy 1000-thead-count brand name covering a pedestrian, no-budget independent film routine. “Humpday” doesn’t sulk or snark like its brethren, instead shuffling toward a softer playing field of sexual identity.
Though billed as a comedy, “Humpday” isn’t all that humorous. Filmmaker Lynn Shelton instead stitches together a darkly introspective piece where Ben and Andrew jokingly arrange a sexual tryst to compete in a film festival, but quickly learn their lighthearted dares and jokey penetrative plans are merely covering for a possible, and quite sobering, romance. Through extensive conversation (never dialogue), the characters debate the homemade porno idea, with Shelton observing the fallout from all sides, especially in the strained relationship between Ben and Anna, who find their idyllic marriage challenged by Ben’s tenacious sexual curiosity. Shelton does manage to capture a refreshing honesty between Ben and Andrew, permitting the actors enough screentime to feel around their scenes, squeezing out the most discomfort and confessional relief possible. But funny? “Humpday” is surprisingly low on laughs. Even the requisite alt-crowd wit fails to catch fire.
“Humpday” is a yappy motion picture and to get to the heart of the conflict, one must endure an endless stream of loquacious banter that wears out its welcome quickly (the boys not only yammer about feelings, but the very nature of art as well). Shelton gets so caught up in the chatter she forgets to massage the psychological strain as the movie goes along, resting the story on increasingly illogical acts of marital silence to squeak the plot into its inevitable hotel room conclusion.
Once the finale arrives, with all that juicy homoerotic tension ready to spill, it’s up to Shelton to follow through with at least something of a resolution, either naked and lubed or clothed and awkward. Instead “Humpday” talks itself into a coma, killing the excitement with modesty. There’s much to praise about “Humpday,” and it clicks wonderfully when sustaining wisps of focus. There’s just not enough severity in Shelton’s touch to maintain a spellbinding sit. Instead of watching two men hungrily dance around the idea of homosexual connection after decades of hetero dominance, “Humpday” would rather take a nap in the corner and leave all the heavy dramatic lifting for another day.