"Humpday", the new film from writer / director Lynn Shelton, is the latest pure independent film to hit multiplexes.
So often, a movie labeled as an "independent film" stars big A-list actors, directed by a well-known director and is released by Miramax, the Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics, etc. These films aren't really 'independent' anymore; their releases generally open on between five hundred and a thousand screens. These are studio films and more often than not, they are labeled independent because of their slightly racy themes or ideas. Or perhaps it is a period piece. Anything a major studio can't figure out how to promote and release is embraced by these smaller, newer studios.
"Humpday" is a pure independent. All of the hallmarks of an independent film are there, low budget, unknown actors, racy story concentrating on characters and their conversations, leaving expensive location shoots to the big budget films.
Ben (Mark Duplass) and Anna (Alycia Delmore) are a new couple, living in a house they recently purchased. At 2am one night, there is a loud knocking on the door and Ben finds Andrew (Joshua Leonard), an old college buddy, at the door. Andrew goes where the wind takes him and has returned from Mexico to find funding for an art project. Anna wakes up and seems overwhelmed by her husband's friend. The next day, she offers to make her famous pork chops for the three of them, to give everyone a chance to get to know one another. But Andrew has already hooked up with two lesbians who have invited him to stay at their place. Every Friday, they have a free night of food, music and party, allowing one and all to come over and participate. Ben tries to get Andrew to come back home, but Ben soon gets sucked into the party and sticks around for a while. Some wine, some smokes and the evening slips away. Soon, Andrew's lesbian hosts bring up the upcoming Humpfest, a festival of amateur porn. Andrew and Ben come up with the idea of creating a gay porn film starring them, two straight men. As the day of the films shoot approaches, Ben has to come up with a way to tell Anna about their plans.
"Humpday" is a disappointing independent film. It's disappointing because it doesn't go far enough. When the three major characters spend the entire film discussing this amateur project they want to do and what the implications will be and who will be "boning" whom, you sort of expect to see the two guys at least kiss. When this happens, and is so quickly dismissed, you have to wonder why this film can't go as far as "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry". Why is it okay for Adam Sandler and Kevin James to kiss and it is not okay for Ben and Andrew go beyond that or to act differently? It doesn't make any sense to me.
So when this doesn't happen, you have to look back at the rest of the film and decide if it was good enough to make up for this lack of any 'fireworks'. Are the performances, the writing and the directing interesting enough to hold your attention for the 90 minute running time? Yes and no.
The three leads are all interesting and good at creating and defining their characters. We get a real sense for who each of them is and they seem believable as hell. When Ben and Anna have a "conversation" (fight?) because Ben and Andrew blew her off the night before, Ben begins to apologize and explain. Eventually, he says, "I'm a good husband. I think I deserve a "Get out of jail free" card". This conversation and most of the others just seem real to me. They don't have an air of the writer trying to prove how clever they are. Instead, every word feels like it could actually happen in the course of a conversation.
And each of the relationships seems real. Mark Duplass and Alycia Delmore play well against each other and seem to be a real couple. And Duplass and Leonard also convincingly portray their long friendship. As Ben and Andrew catch up, reminiscing and Andrew tells Ben about his adventures, you catch a slight glance in Ben's face indicating he envies his friend, is jealous about missing out on all of the adventures his friend has had. But then you see Ben and Anna together and Ben clearly loves his wife, so everything seems good and normal.
"Humpday" is two thirds of a good independent film. It has the characters and dialogue to make a memorable film, but it lacks the conviction of a statement. Yes, the two guys talk about making a gay porn film about two straight guys, and how beautiful that would be. But that's all they do, is talk about it, and the talk never seems to reach a meaningful conclusion.