If you’re talking art pornography, there’s nothing more beautiful and moving than two straight dudes boning each other. That’s how it seems to friends Ben (Duplass) and Andrew (Leonard), anyway, after a night of drinking and controlled-substance smoking with a houseful of free-loving wannabe Dionysian Bohos. The plan they swear to follow through on is as simple as it is sphincter-tightening: In a celebration of platonic man-love, Ben and Andrew will film themselves butt-fucking and enter it in the Seatle Stranger’s annual amateur-porn film fest, Hump!
Cue 90 minutes of homosexual-panic jokes, but probably not the ones you’d expect after a steady diet of Apatow-brand dude love. Duplass and Leonard play their characters with a lifelike subtlety and restraint Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill wouldn’t even attempt, and the dick jokes are incredibly dialed down for an R-rated sex comedy. There’s none of Bruno’s stomach-turning (and maybe homophobic) gerbil-stuffing gags here. Instead we get the most realistic depiction of male friendship I’ve seen onscreen this year, and from Shelton, a female filmmaker (and the actress playing head Dionysian Monica), no less.
Once they’ve sobered up, Ben and Andrew begin second-guessing their ridiculous art project, but they’re each, for different reasons, reluctant to call it off. Ben has settled into a steady transportation-planning job and a comfortable marriage. He’s even trying to have a child (or, as Ben downplays the decision, “We’ve removed the goalie and we’re just doing free kicks now”), and he needs to prove he’s still free-spirited enough to film himself having sex he doesn’t really want for vaguely defined reasons. Andrew, on the other hand, is continuing to live the Kerouac-ian lifestyle they both used to idolize, with no real attachments or agenda. (The dynamic between Ben, wife Anna, and Andrew is nearly identical to that of the three principal characters in the Duplass brothers’ The Puffy Chair, actually, with Leonard taking the intruding bearded beatnik role from Rhett Wilkins). Andrew’s problem though, is he considers himself an artist but has yet to complete a single project. Ben lies about the length of the leash Anna keeps him on, while Andrew, who gets freaked out touching dildos, lies about his comfort level, and both turn the film into a game of gay chicken in which having sex with another man somehow becomes the ultimate macho act.
Humpday’s “mumblecore” aesthetic (whatever that means) is less fresh for having been done in Puffy Chair and Baghead — even Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes heavily aped the (movement?, genre?) for this year’s Away We Go — but Humpday’s small-scale, character-based humor, provides an honest, and therefore not completely satisfying, examination of the awkwardness of male, the boundaries relationships put on personal growth, and why two otherwise intelligent, open-minded heterosexual dudes revert to junior-high locker-room mentality at the thought of another man’s nards. Watch it with a group of your best guy buddies, and you’re practically guaranteed a long, awkward silence on the car trip home. And that’s probably not a bad thing.