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How bromantic

Buddy cinema reaches a whole new level



As much as I like John Hughes movies, they've never spoken to me very deeply about the actual experience of being a teenager. Especially not when I was a teenager. Twentysomething movies like Reality Bites never really seem to get the clumsiness of the age exactly right either. The wonderful Adventureland is the first mass-market release in a long time to capture the longing, the wanting, the awkwardness, the nervousness just right. I almost started crying when Hüsker Dü came on the soundtrack. Most teen and twentysomething movies, though, are essentially distilled from the nostalgic amnesia of people in their 30s or older. Generally former nerds now in their 30s or older. Quite often, the women in these movies are two-dimensional sketches of girlfriends the (male) screenwriters wish they'd had in high school and college. These imaginary dreamgirls always seem to have better taste in music than real teenage girls, and are quite often the beautiful but sad and world-weary only children of rich and oblivious/ drunk/absentee parents who have left them essentially to fend for themselves. They're always a little too contrived.

Definitely bigger than a breadbox.
  • Definitely bigger than a breadbox.

And in this they fare rather better than the equally two-dimensional women of bro-comedies like Knocked Up, who are generally presented as enemies: threats to the buddy order, nags-in-training who only want these men to grow up, straighten up, quit wasting time with the guys and start thinking about careers and babies. Mainstream comedy as a whole seems to be aging, though, moving through some grand cycle from the party pad into marriage and fatherhood with a core of writers and directors who are at similar stages in their lives. Like the cooped-up young husband and first-time dad characters now commonplace in supporting casts, these screenwriters seem also to be coping with a major shrinking of their formerly boundless freedom. Unlike the writers of teen movies, they can draw on current events in their lives, closely observed, for their subject matter. With such a quick turnaround, there's less room for wistfulness and mythologizing.

Several contemporary currents in humor—awkwardness, pent-up family, Jud Apatow-style bromance—come together in Humpday, directed by Lynn Shelton, and made for maybe a hundredth of Knocked Up's budget. The movie opens with young married couple Ben and Anna (Mark Duplass and Alycia Delmore) lying in bed, each relieved to find the other too tired for the sex scheduled on her fertility chart (they're trying to conceive). A midnight ring on the doorbell turns out to be Andrew (Josh Leonard), an old college buddy blowing through town after long bohemian sojourns in Mexico, Laos and elsewhere. Can he crash for a few days? Ben nervously okays it with Anna, who doesn't have much choice. The old buddy horseplay starts right away. Before long Andrew is dragging Ben out to artsy boho parties, to the mounting irritation of the baby-minded Anna.

At one such get-together, wreathed in pot smoke, Ben—who is determined to show he's not some boring old square—lets the bohemians cajole him into a dare: to make a DIY porn film starring himself...and Andrew. It'll make a bold statement, he reasons: two straight male friends having sex with each other to prove it's no big deal. Or something. Everyone agrees it will be "way beyond gay." (The catalyzing event is Humpday, an actual annual DIY pornfest organized by Seattle newsweekly The Stranger. No on-screen penetration is allowed. Apparently it's hilarious.)

Humpday is a strange one: contrived in set-up, but naturalistic and heavily improvised in execution. These two things could easily be at odds, but somehow they almost work together, and at any rate the movie unfolds at such a leisurely pace that you never feel forced into accepting its contrivances too quickly. The spot-on acting also helps a lot: Leonard is note-perfect as the "artist," actually more of a hanger-on, who lives the boho life to the hilt but has never carried a single project to its conclusion. He exudes a crazily vulnerable vibe, much like Owen Wilson's Eli Cash in The Royal Tenenbaums, and several moments in Humpday permit us to sneak up one poorly defended ridge and peer over it for a long, revealing look at the lonely person behind the artsy facade.

Duplass is likewise terrific, trying to act cool while stumbling around in the no-man's-land between the Wife and the Crazy Best Friend. At times I felt like I was watching closed-circuit TV footage of myself. Best of all, Anna (Delmore) emerges as something closer to a real person than you might expect, not just a ball-busting control freak or a giant pair of vibrating ovaries.

Humpday isn't all that amazing—just pretty good, and certainly something different. It is hardly courageous. In fact, it kind of chickens out toward the end, but not without one last lingering look into Andrew's mind that will either make the movie for you or signally fail to salvage it.

Humpday continues at the Wilma Theatre.

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