Monday, September 28, 2009

The Daily Gamecock - Honest film explores ?bromance?

The Daily Gamecock - Honest film explores ?bromance?

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Budding independent writer/director Lynn Shelton throws the male ego for a loop in her latest film, “Humpday.” A painfully awkward comedy, it’s written and performed with wonderful honesty, and is one of the most interesting and weirdest explorations of the ‘bromance’ to date.

Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) have grown apart in the years since college. The former has settled down into a comfortable life with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore), while the latter has traveled the world in search of his artistic calling.

After an unexpected reunion and a night of heavy intoxication, Andrew dares Ben to participate in a local amateur pornography festival. What could be more daring or artsy, Andrew argues, than two straight guys celebrating their friendship with sex?

What ensues is a rapid escalation of one-upping, where each man waits for the other to back out, challenging each other’s masculinity with a lurking homosexual desire. It’s a surprisingly affecting exploration of manhood, where awkward moments only deepen into profound silence. In its scant 94 minutes, the “macho shield” of heterosexual manliness is ambivalently challenged and thrown into question.

“Humpday” has no right to work as well as it does, but Shelton hits hard on sexual anxieties. The premise may seem gimmicky, with the characters even questioning several times how straight-gay-porn is actually art, but their refusal to back down from the gimmick makes it all the more interesting.
Both Ben and Andrew are tenderly written and played. Actors Duplass and Leonard establish mounds of chemistry in every scene, trading verbal and physical blows in an effort to repair and redefine their abandoned friendship.
The film’s real lynchpin is Anna, played by new actress Alycia Delmore. Put in an almost incessantly awkward position as the woman between these two men, it would have been easy for Shelton and Delmore to either marginalize or exploit her.

As Ben struggles with how to tell Anna about his “art project,” and Anna grapples to understand how Andrew could possibly make Ben want to commit to artsy porn, Delmore remains stunningly nuanced and composed. Anna is a strong wife and independent woman who makes her points without resorting to dramatics.

The cinematography, headed by Benjamin Kasulke, prefers long, hand-held takes that swerve around the characters, stressing their various levels of intimacy and trying to find their personal, spontaneous moments. The natural lighting of the film, where entire rooms seem to be lit by a single source, also makes for a contained and realistic atmosphere.

The entire film moves at a calm pace that masterfully raises the stakes and the conflict without breaking its veil of realism. By dressing down its aesthetic, it also helps the characters’ emotions feel more immediate.

“Humpday” digs deep into its characters with effortless grace, mining rich and complex humor as the men get closer and closer to “doing the deed.” When they finally arrive at their hotel room, unsure of how to exhibit their bodies or how their project even qualifies as art, the film reaches its richest poignancy.
Ben and Andrew’s friendship, be it platonic or potentially sexual, is a lifeboat for their lives. Their project is a way not to be artistic, but to run from responsibility and throw their preconceived perceptions of themselves to the wind.

In its own way, “Humpday” is a wonderful comedy about trying to define the self. Its writing is sharp and realistic, and its characters feel fully formed with deeply rooted anxieties. Writer/director Lynn Shelton has arrived with a gifted sense for crafting characters mired in bizarre personal crises.

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