Sundance Review: 'Humpday' evokes Apatow...in a good way
It's been over a decade since Joshua Leonard made a splash along with a number of other unknown actors in "The Blair Witch Project." After the premiere of Lynn Shelton's new film "Humpday" at the Sundance Film Festival today, his career may finally get another big boost.
This buzzed about dramatic competition entry finds Leonard playing Andrew, a wandering jack kerouac-like thirtysomething who late one night shows up at the doorstep of his old college buddy Ben (Mark Duplass of "The Puffy Chair"). It's been years since they have seen each other and while Andrew has been working on art projects in Mexico, Ben has happily married Anna (Alycia Delmore) and settled into a conventional, but seemingly tame, young couple routine (as boring as you can get for Seattle, WA that is...which, um, actually might be boring).
An energetic free spirit, Andrew soon meets a group of area artists and introduces Ben into their open minded lifestyle. Wary at first, Ben spends a whole night drinking and smoking pot with Andrew's new friends. Randomly (or so it seems), the subject turns to Humpfest, an art film festival that seeks to bring the "art back into porn." Wasted, Ben and Andrew concoct that with so much already on the internet, the most daring piece you could come up with is to have two straight guys have sex together -- for art's sake of course.
What follows is a clever and, for some, sexy comedy that will having moviegoers second guessing Andrew, Ben and even Anna's perspective on life and sexuality. Is Andrew bisexual? Is Ben straight but in love with his former best friend? Or are they really two heterosexual men whose competitive machismo has convinced them this is an "art project" and nothing else? On a shoestring budget, Shelton masterfully handles a concept that could have easily become unbelievable, but instead seduces with its character's realistic reactions to the events at hand. And while the ending may not satisfy all, in hindsight it's actually somewhat poignant.
Before I was able to write up this review, I had mentioned to a friend that the film seemed "Apatowesque" to me. It was a scenario Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen could have devised amongst their laundry list of projects.. He asked, "Is that a good or a bad thing?" In this case, without the traditional Hollywood trappings, it's definitely a good thing.
As for Leonard, he and Duplass give fantastically charismatic performances, providing unexpected depth to the characters and no doubt, putting them back on filmmakers' radar.
Lastly, reaction to the film will be interesting to gauge amongst different genders and sexual orientations. While the audience at the Eccles seemed totally into it ("laugh out loud" may be appropriate), it was apparent that women really dug it the most. With the right studio, it could become a nice word-of-mouth hit.