Guys Wide Shut
Two old friends confront their friendship and selves in this winning indie comedy
Now that the ostensible man crush has popularly ripened into the stultifying "bromance," which has appeared on the cover of TV Guide and become the name of MTV's latest humiliate-yourself-in-the-name-of-reality-entertainment series, it's as boring as up-skirt paparazzi pictures. Yes, the man-children of Judd Apatow's movies are comedic early adopters of such an attitude, helping to pave the box-office way for movies such as I Love You Man and The Hangover, but the idea is even more pervasive than that. Just check out Keith Urban improvising the line "it's a bromance to believe in" when covering the Eagles 'Take it to the Limit" with Dierks Bentley. And when country music artists don't bat at eye at man-man love, you know that the homoerotic tension of male intimacy has gone the way of the dodo.
Or has it? Writer/director Lynn Shelton's Humpday pushes the nonsexual but homoerotic possibilities of straight male friendships to their logical conclusion by sexualizing them, and a wealth of laughs ensue--it's not merely a setup for cheap shots. The simple premise--two old friends get together, get a little tipsy, and decide they're going to enter an amateur pornography contest with the "beyond gay" idea of two straight guys (as in, them) having sex--exposes the tension lurking just beneath the surface of the current male-male intimacy fascinations that have emerged as this year's entertainment given. And for all its bisexual pondering and tiptoeing along ideas of alternative lifestyles, Humpday is an unabashedly straight movie.
That's not meant as a knock, merely an observation of its understated subject: It's less about sexuality per se than how straight men comport themselves. It opens with married couple Ben (Mark Duplass) and Anna (Alycia Delmore) in bed together, making out, but both admitting they're too tired to have sex. After agreeing to have sex the following night--they're trying to conceive--Ben's old college buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up unannounced at the door of their Seattle house around 2 a.m.
The bearded, free-wheeling Andrew fancies himself an artist/traveler--Ben hasn't seen him in years, knowing his whereabouts only through the irregularly mailed postcards Andrew sends him--and the old friends try to establish the former youthful banter. It's an anxious, futile effort to reclaim the past perfectly captured by the look on Anna's face as she watches her husband and this man she's only heard about but never met play-punch and harass each other: Her eyes widen and her lips try to smile, but this feigned amusement can't hide her absolute mortification.
The fraying bonds of thirtysomething old friends is what Humpday puts under the microscope, and writer/director Shelton--with great assistance from the game Duplass and Leonard--refreshingly never resort to irony. These two formerly best mates--they once planned to travel together--couldn't be more different now. Ben works a desk job, owns a house, is married and trying to have children; Andrew lives like an itinerant, where every tattoo and item of clothing or skill he's acquired has some personal story behind it involving faraway places and different cultures.
Naturally, the two guys passive-aggressively compete with each other, each trying to prove something to the other--and themselves--about their life choices. So when Andrew ends up at a stereotypically Bohemian house called Dionysius flirting with the bisexual Monica (Shelton) and Ben allows himself to be drawn into their night of wine, music, and weed (as Anna eats at home by herself), when the topic of alt-weekly The Stranger's amateur porn festival Hump comes up, Ben and Andrew suggest they make one of themselves having sex with each other. You know, two straight guys having sex with each other not because it's a gay thing, though there's nothing wrong with that. It wouldn't be porn--it'd be art.
It's the sort of idea that sounds brilliant under the influence, but stinks of stupidity under the clear light of morning, and the casual genius of Humpday is that it forces these two guys to confront their stoned delusions head on. Their million-dollar drunken genius just so happens to involve fucking each other, and since they first saw each other again they've been pushing each other in childish games of one-upmanship. And they just might dare each other into bed.
The movie culminates with the two guys in a hotel room with a video camera, and what ensues is more personal and revealing than rote, mechanical sex between two people who aren't sexually attracted to one another. Humpday is less concerned with will they or won't they than why they did this to themselves in the first place. It doesn't quite answer that question, but it does something much more blunt. Shelton and Humpday acutely sees the latent homophobia lurking beneath the surface of the so-called bromance and calls its bluff.