If there is one thing that we can take away from director Lynn Shelton’s awkward sex comedy Humpday, it is that there is nothing more uncomfortable to watch yet strikingly hilarious than two straight men who set out to have sex on camera. Shelton, who won a Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006 with her feature We Go Way Back, has crafted a sharp, bitingly funny film that is a close relative to the Mumblecore movement that hit the independent film scene in the early 2000s. Characterized by their focus on twenty-somethings and their relationships, their non-professional casts and semi-improvised scripts, Mumblecore films (everything from 2006’s The Puffy Chair to 2008’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss) have received praise at film festivals all over the world. And while Humpday certainly has many Mumblecore elements, including but not limited to the twenty-somethings relationship focus and one of the famous Duplass brothers in a lead role, it is perhaps one of the most tightly scripted and witty films of its particular sub genre.
At the heart of it all are two friends, played by Joshua Leonard and Mark Duplass — who will from here on out be referred to as the dynamic duo of awkward comedy. Leonard, who co-directed one of my favorite films from South by Southwest last year (Beautiful Losers), plays Andrew, a free spirited nomad who has seen the world and experienced life all without ever really amounting to much. Mark Duplass, of Puffy Chair and Baghead fame, plays Ben, a married stiff with a 9 to 5 job, a house and high hopes of filling said house with children. But with the impromptu return of Andrew into his life (he just shows up at 2 o’clock in the morning one night), Ben rebels against the life that he has built with his beautiful and loving wife (played by newcomer Alycia Delmore) and parties hard with a new group of free-loving artists. Somewhere along the way, Andrew and Ben drunkenly decide that they should enter a Seattle amateur porn contest known as Humpfest, in which aspiring artists attempt to bring the art back to porn. What is their artistic pornographic idea? Two straight men expressing their friendship by having sex on camera.
As you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of awkward moments, all perfectly executed by the film’s superb young cast. Leonard and Duplass have a very unique and natural on-screen chemistry, giving the friendship shared by their characters an unmistakable authenticity. Alycia Delmore also shines as Ben’s loving, yet ultimately distraught wife Anna. Together the three core cast members bring Lynn Shelton’s story and vision to life with impressively engaging performances — and the results are at times quite hysterical. As in, you might potentially laugh so hard you rattle the seats to the left and right of you. With a wit that is razor sharp and a natural feel that is characteristic of the best of Mumblecore, Humpday is a clear winner. The only downers in the audience will be those who fail to see past the documentary-style cinematography and very un-Hollywood like production values. If you want to nitpick about well-balanced sound recording and smoothly executed shots, you might want to go somewhere else. However, should you be yearning for a smart, fresh comedy that smacks you in the face with uncomfortable moments, you will feel right at home seeing Humpday.