Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pleasant Surprise: Humpday

Watched a movie the other night called Humpday about two friends who decide to make an art-porn together. Here's the gimmick: they're both straight males, and they would be having sex with each other. I was amused enough by the trailer to drop this in my Netflix queue, and really the only reason I rented it was because I forgot that I had it in my Netflix queue at all. Eager to return it and wide awake, I popped it into the DVD player fully expecting to give up after twenty minutes (a la Shrink).

Instead, I was treated to a rather charming film that isn't about weird sex at all. Weird sex is the background noise to a dramedy about friendship and marriage and the weirdness that inhabits both of those worlds.

Ben is settling into adulthood. He's new-ish-ly married, his man-cave has been converted into a nursery-to-be (although his wife, Anna, isn't pregnant yet). He has a mortgage and a beer gut and and is fairly happy with his life. Then, at 1:30 in the morning, his Bohemian former-best-friend Andrew knocks on his door.

The two friends catch up. The next day Andrew falls in with a "Dionysian" commune and invites Ben to a party where there is a lot of alcohol, a little pot, precious little inhibition, and much talk of the upcoming "Humpfest" amateur porn festival. On a drunken whim, Ben and Andrew decide that they should make a film together.

Mild Spoilers Ahead

The premise of Humpday is pretty far out, but the filmmakers sell it by taking the focus off of the premise and instead exploring the way it strains very realistic relationships. For example, Ben goes to the party to collect Andrew because Anna was going to make her "world-famous pork chops" but Andrew is already cooking for the party and they invite Anna over instead. It quickly turns into a "honey, you can come to this party if you want to, but it's not really your scene, but I'm going to put in a quick appearance and then come home" scenario that should be achingly familiar to any married man in the audience.

And Anna totally calls him on it. She constantly surprises the viewer by having a much firmer grasp on the situation than Ben realizes and not only calling his bullshit, but understanding where it's coming from (which, again, should be achingly familiar to married men). She comes across with wonderful depth. The morning after the party (Ben having stood her up for dinner and stayed out until 3 in the morning), she wakes him up up by mounting him but telling him that she's angry with him and doesn't want to talk to him. But what at first appears to be an angry (if awkward) sex scene becomes a little bit more tragic when Ben asks her what's going on. Well, she's really pissed off at him, and they were supposed to have sex the night before because she was ovulating and it was a last-ditch effort to get pregnant this month and never-mind-I'm-just-too-angry-at-you-to-go-through-with-it.

It's a reveal to both Ben and the viewer--Ben had previously told Andrew that he and Anna were only sort-of trying to get pregnant, that if it happens it happens. This scene illustrates the difference between Anna's head space versus Ben's, and it highlights the main conflict of the film: the disparity between the person Ben thinks he is (as evidenced by his Bohemian roots and his friend Andrew) and the person that he has agreed to be (a husband and father).

Now you would expect that Anna would object to Ben's wish to have sex with his friend, and she does--it's a plot point. And you wouldn't expect Ben and Andrew to still want to go through with their movie once they've sobered up. And you'd be right, but they find themselves in a weird sort of competition--Andrew to prove to himself and the world that he really is an artist (despite his having never made a piece of art) and Ben to prove to the world that he's open-minded and adventurous (despite the wife and mortgage). It turns into a sort of pissing contest--if you won't have sex with this man, then you're a pussy.

And I love the irony of that particular sentiment.

I won't tell you whether they go through with it--as the last third of the movie is devoted to sorting that out. But it's a fun film that doesn't overstay its welcome (93 minute running time, baby) and has a lot of reality and heart buried under the weird sex gimmick driving it.

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