mon 26/02/2024

Humpday | reviews, news & interviews



Best buddies stray off the straight and narrow

Sixteen years ago, Tom Hanks was in Seattle, pining sleeplessly for Meg Ryan. In 2009, though, romantic comedy has a rather different complexion and, in another corner of the Space Needle city, two best buddies flirt with a gay affair, even though both of them protest, just a little too much, that they are straight.

The American independent comedy Humpday is a curious mix of bromance and mumblecore - and please read on even if those two appellations are utterly foreign to you (read on too, even if they aren't, of course).

The story turns on the uneasy friendship, a friendship which might just tip into something more, between its two main male characters. Ben is deep in wedded bliss, decorating the spare bedroom and trying for a baby ("we've officially removed the goalie and we're doing free kicks"), even if he could be trying harder. Then a 1.30am knock at the door signals the arrival of Andrew, his college room-mate, back from doing something very avant-garde and more than a tad dodgy in Mexico. Within hours this prodigal friend has dragged Ben off to an all-night party at a squat which names itself Dionysus, and they've agreed to make a gay porn film together, all in the cause of art, of course.

From this high-concept premise, Humpday ambles off down all sorts of (literal) deviations and byways. On one level, it's a bromance, or buddy romance, of the sort that's been proving a goldmine for Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. That director-actor team makes films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up or Superbad in which the close (but very definitely not sexual) bond between their infantile beta males takes priority over any conventional straight relationship. The female characters in Apatow's films are frequently shrill shrewish types on the sidelines. And so too is Ben's wife in Humpday. She seems to spend most of her time cooking pork chops and obsessing over her ovulation calendar, no matter that this film is directed by a woman, Lynn Shelton.

Hannah_Takes_the_StairsBut Humpday is also a product of mumblecore, the less programmatic, lo-fi indie film movement which has been bubbling along for a while below the radar without quite catching the general public attention, although several examples, including The Puffy Chair and Hannah takes the Stairs, pictured right, have been released in Britain, as has the London-based movie Unmade Beds, released here last week.

These films are marked by hyper-naturalist, improvised, rambling, inarticulate dialogue and a plot that goes nowhere very much at all but instead is fascinated with nuances of behaviour and the microscopic changes in personal relationships. The Raindance Film Festival, which opened last September with Humpday, is dedicated to independent cinema and thus stocked with numerous examples.

The opponents of mumblecore are driven mad by its interminably protracted scenes, its endless navel-gazing and the banal conversations peppered with "awesomes" and "like, wows". Its proponents point to the way this freewheeling, casual approach can reveal the chasm between what people say and what they mean. This is done with a quiet brilliance in Humpday's climactic scene - though that adjective is perhaps ill-chosen - wherein Ben and Andrew repair to a hotel room to film their magnum opus. Ben is bi-curious, Andrew is bi-anxious and the ensuing comedy of embarrassment and mutual self-deception is a minor classic.

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