Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HumpDay: Mumblecore Cock Tease


The phrase "all cackling and no eggs" was never more appropriate than it is for this indie flick, about two straight pals who decide to make a gay porno for the local "Hump Day" arts festival.

The mumblecore movement - so dubbed in 2005 - centers on improvised conversations of 20-somethings, often talking in bed either before, during or after sex. Actually not necessarily even that...as mumblecore could be really about anything, even the Arab / Israeli conflict, as long as it's chatty, freeform, and "life-like."

HumpDay is written by the female director Lynn Shelton, one of the rising mumblecore directors, who also directed one of this season's "Mad Men" episodes. Everything in this film is set up to explore just how deeply a modern male friendship - and the semi-sexualized homoerotic banter between two straight friends - might actually go. One could say that this is a "bromance" taken to its ultimate logical conclusion.

Ben and Anna are an average, somewhat happily married twenty-something couple for whom the romance has recently worn off. When we meet them, we find them negotiating sex, planning to have a baby, and going about their daily routines with absent-minded habituation. They hardly notice each other, even as they entertain their personal endearments and halfheartedly complain about the daily annoyances of living with another human being.

Into this stasis walks Andrew - Ben's old friend from college - who still seems to be living the swinging single life, breezing into town to knock on their door at 2am and open up the nearest bottle of whiskey. Andrew is just the tonic the married Ben seems to be pining for: a happy-go-lucky blast from his youth. There's also...somehow...the least bit of some kind of sexual tension between the two, as their hugs and stares into each other's eyes go on just a moment longer than is comfortable for either.

Of course, one thing leads to another, and Ben soon has Andrew ditching Anna's carefully prepared pork-chop dinner and partying with Andrew's new-found bohemian friends (a pair of lesbians and a few other assorted artists and hangers on). Excellent scene, thinks Ben, and he's hooked on Andrew's partying, ambi-sexual world before you can say "homosexual tendencies." When Andrew's lesbian friends tell Andrew about the upcoming arts festival - Hump Day - Andrew sarcastically suggests that he and Ben should make a gay porno as an art piece. "I'd do it," says Ben, half facetious, but half serious, wanting to explore where this thing might go. "Yeah, so would I," says Andrew, and the two of them both know the other really wants to do it, even though several more minutes of (presumably) heterosexual posturing must go by...and even a few more scenes...before each finally decides that the other is serious.

This is certainly no gay porn, where the two straight guys suddenly find themselves hopping into bed. Most of the movie really consists of Ben and Andrew talking about whether they really want to do it, if they would do it, and - finally, when they eventually get around to deciding to do it - how they would do it (which takes forever to negotiate and ultimately...well, you get the picture). I've never seen two dudes talk so much about whether they want to have sex with each other. Clearly, this is an urge that neither can really explain (although the scene where they do try to explain it to each other - Ben has, apparently, some past homoerotic attraction to a video store clerk that he needs to understand, and Andrew thinks that gay sex will make him a better artist - is the best in the film). There are, indeed, some great moments that come out of the interactions between these two actors, and the improvisation does give this movie a certain introspective, semi-titillating, expectant flavor, like a freshman dorm at 2am...but there's not quite enough consistency to make all that conversation worthwhile.

I know that this movie is intentionally leading us on a bit of a merry chase - and that the scenes are all, in fact, improvised - but for such build up, the ending is a decided let down. Neither Ben nor Andrew really work out what's driving them, though they do manage to discuss it in every conceivable way possible.

Was I really this chatty at twenty-nine? It's hard to believe, but then, that's the device of this film. Young people these days seemingly have a lot to talk about. One has to wonder how long these two would have gone on talking, however, had they actually started any kind of real relationship.

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