In Lynn Shelton’s wonderfully uncomfortable Humpday, you can cut the awkwardness with a knife. The consequences of prolonged sexual repression and personal guilt dampen an already slippery slope when two straight friends (portrayed by Josh Leonard and Mark Duplass) agree to participate in a porno together during a night of drunken ego wrestling. The sobering next day begins a hilarious series of conversations about sexuality, loyalty, and regret, testing these relationships through bitingly comedic assumptions and escalations.
The film transcends the verbose monotony of its Mumblecore roots to reveal a deeper vision of sadness, where the characters words have real weight and consequences. Shelton’s players don’t really know what they want in life and this insecurity makes them beholden to faux-ideologies and fledgling opinions. But each shows a distinct ability to evolve, and the improvisational pacing of the acting and story spring forth a tonal medley, a roller-coaster ride of subtlety that leads somewhere resonant. The final close-up is especially telling of the disappointment and allocation fused to the film’s indie aesthetic.
Humpday creates nuance from potential exploitative and pandering material, a major coup for both Shelton and the fantastic small cast. The film doesn’t treat the subject matter lightly as gross-out humor, nor does it descend into arduous symbolism or preaching. Shelton’s compelling vision of modern male angst is one defined by the fear of failure and the guilt of compromising identity, traits hidden beneath a crumbling mountain of entitled stubbornness. So it’s not surprising the male directors of Mumblecore up to this point have been unable to reconcile their own self-reflective Achilles heel and produce something of this caliber. Good thing the ladies are paying attention.