If there's a term more obnoxious than "bromance," it's probably "mumblecore," the cutesy blanket term for an entire genre of indie films in which people hook up and break up, talk about their feelings, and not much else happens. Humpday, as it happens, is at the intersection of those two terms, a mumblecore bromance about two old friends who find themselves, even in their 30s, figuring out who they want to be and competing as to who gets there fastest.
It's a surprising circumstance for Ben (Mark Duplass), newly married with a stable job and a great house, almost smug in how well he's done. But when Andrew (Joshua Leonard) skids onto Ben's front porch at 2 a.m., just back from Mexico and wearing a hat bought for him by a princess in Morocco, the two of them slip almost immediately into their comfortable relationship of silly jokes and one-upmanship. After a night at the kind of hippie party freely described as "Dionysian," Ben and Andrew learn of a local amateur porn contest, and start joking that they should enter together. For reasons both macho and unknown, the joke becomes real, and Ben and Andrew promise that, at the end of the weekend, they will be in a hotel room having sex on camera.
It sounds like ridiculous high-concept on paper, but then again, who hasn't been convinced by a friend to do something crazy in order to prove how hip you are? Therein lies the genius of Humpday-- its utter, unforced realism, borne of naturalistic acting, documentary style camera work, and a gentle directorial hand from Lynn Shelton, who also fills in hilariously as the Dionysian party planner who suggests the whole idea. Duplass and Leonard, along with Alycia Delmore as Ben's wife Anna, create their characters out of little glances and moments; they're undeniably people you know. Each of them, when thrown into this ludicrous situation, acts a little poorly, with Ben lying to Anna about exactly who's in the porn, Anna lashing out when she learns the truth, and Andrew pretending to be a whole lot more liberated than he is. The sex isn't just a plot point, but a crucible through which all three must pass in order to find out if their relationships can stay intact.
For another set of friends a different challenge-- bungee jumping, or hiking across Nepal as Ben actually suggests-- would bring out the same insecurities and desire to prove oneself to the person who ostensibly knows them best. But both Ben and Andrew, secretly considering themselves artists of some kind, are sucked in by the promise of Humpfest as an art project, though the potential artistic value of a gay porn starring straight guys is deliberately left vague. And given that the guys are your typical Left Coast liberals, they're not homophobic-- really, they're not, and the film isn't either. If they're as liberated and open-minded as they like to think they are, gay sex shouldn't squick them out. But as Shelton and her cast so deftly explain, friendship is a lot more complicated than that.
Do they or don't they? If you're familiar with mumblecore, and its slice-of-life sense of plotting, you'll understand when I say it doesn't matter. Humpday is less of a story than an intimate drill down into a relationship full of fault lines that no one is really willing to explore. It's also hilarious, which makes all that unspoken relationship drama a lot easier to explore. It might be the wild concept that gets people into theaters for Humpday, but the character nuances and fascinating theories on friendship are what make it such a gem.