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Zack and Murray make a porno

Two straight buddies give gay sex a try in smartly written Humpday

If you’re writing a sitcom or a comedy sketch and you want a guaranteed laugh all you have to do is have two male characters kiss each other. ( Cheers ran for 11 seasons and seldom did they get a bigger more delighted response from the studio audience than when two gay guys kissed Norm — or when Norm and Cliff gave each other a peck as a gag.) By that logic writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Humpday should be the funniest movie ever made: it’s the story of two longtime male friends who decide not just to have sex with each other but to do it on camera and show the film in public.

That’s a pretty startling premise but Shelton arrives at it in a surprisingly plausible way. Mark Duplass (one half of the Duplass Brothers filmmaking team who made the mumblecore hits The Puffy Chair and Baghead ) is Ben a paunchy Seattleite in his early 30s whose somewhat sleepy domestic routine with his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) is disrupted by a surprise visit from his buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard who you may recognize as one of the three doomed heroes of The Blair Witch Project ). Andrew — bearded bohemian well-travelled wearing a hat he claims was given to him by a princess — may be an immature slacker but something about the way he looks at Ben’s house with its neat little kitchen and its coffee table books plants a few seeds of dissatisfaction in Ben’s head.

Soon Ben finds himself at a party with Andrew in a house full of sexually liberated strangers where the conversation turns to porn — specifically Humpfest the amateur porn festival Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger runs every year. Andrew who fancies himself an artist talks vaguely about wanting to create a submission — to which Ben a little drunk a little high with Anna at home perhaps wanting to prove to the assembled crowd that he’s not as square as they think he is observes that if Andrew wants to create something really fresh and original he should make a movie in which two guys have sex. Two straight guys. You know like him and Andrew. He says he’d totally be into it. Even the next day after he sobers up he insists his mind hasn’t changed.

Shelton has written a very shrewd screenplay here. The humour in Humpday doesn’t depend so much on the idea of two guys deciding to have sex as does on the way a certain young well educated left wing segment of the population talks about sex. Ben Anna and Andrew have no idea what they really think about anything — at one point Ben literally says he has absolutely no clue why he’s so determined to go through with his “date” with Andrew — but they are hilariously articulate about their inchoate emotions. Ben may not know why he wants to try having sex with Andrew but he can talk Anna’s ear off about how wanting to have sex with him makes him feel. It’s a small buried running joke that while the only thing Humpday ’s characters ever want to talk about is sex up until the final scene between Ben and Andrew there’s not a single sexual encounter that ever gets consummated. (Of course I wouldn’t dream of spoiling whether Ben and Andrew actually get it on.) Conversation is these characters’ preferred method of intercourse — Shelton could almost have titled the movie Deep Throat .

I don’t know how well Humpday ’s no-name cast and semi-improvisational acting style will go over with multiplex audiences but the mere fact that this cheaply made little comedy is getting wide distribution represents some sort of cinematic landmark. It may be the first commercial film in which it’s not entirely outside the realm of reasonable possibility for a straight guy to consider having a homosexual experience. If Ben and Andrew have their misgivings about the idea it’s not because they’re worried about “turning gay” or being penetrated; on the contrary they’re just not sure they can overcome their inalterable heterosexuality long enough to complete the act.

If Brüno tries to make the case that America is populated by latent homophobes Humpday takes the opposite position and suggests that America is full of people who’d at least be willing to give homosexuality a shot if only for a night. But it would have to be with a good trusted friend. And there’d need to be a video camera recording everything. See Humpday with someone you love — but never even considered kissing until now.

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