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Pushing the Gay Panic Button

Humpday (2009)

Magnolia Pictures

“Humpday,” from writer-director Lynn Shelton, transforms a thoroughly outrageous premise into a thoughtful study of the burdens of 21st-century masculinity. Incorporating an improvised technique that lends an authentic sensibility to the proceedings, she and stars Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard and Alycia Delmore have created a film that defies all logic by seeming so relatable and real. What seems on paper to be destined for outsized satire instead becomes something that cuts deeper – a film that evokes the genuine humor of its central conceit and the pain that accompanies it.

Friends Ben (Mr. Duplass) and Andrew (Mr. Leonard) reunite some 10 years after graduating college and decide over one shared drunken night to have sex together on camera at a later date and submit their work to a local porn festival. When they’ve sobered up, they still decide to go through with it, despite Ben’s happy marriage to Anna (Ms. Delmore). Ben, needless to say, has a tough time explaining to his wife exactly what’s driving him on his quest, which has less to do with any sort of sexual attraction than the need to reassert some sort of agency over his life.

The film skillfully probes the male psyche, exploring the shared sense of inadequacy and terror that spurs Ben and Andrew to act. It creatively plays on the deeply ingrained fear of homosexuality that mysteriously permeates the straight male subconscious, characterizing the characters’ plan as the ultimate risk for two everyday members of the hetero demographic. As such, “Humpday” functions as an intelligent, lower-budget corollary to the films of the Judd Apatow generation, which have cornered the market on the dick-plus-heart formula. In directly linking the carrying out of the ultimate anti-alpha-male act – having sex with another man on camera – with the main characters becoming the men they think they should be, Ms. Shelton has centered the picture on an ironic conceit that’s both entertaining and thought provoking.


Opened on July 10 in Manhattan.

Written, produced and directed by Lynn Shelton; director of photography, Benjamin Kasulke; edited by Nat Sanders; music by Vinny Smith; production designer, Jasminka Vukcevic; released by Magnolia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Mark Duplass (Ben), Alycia Delmore (Anna), Joshua Leonard (Andrew), Lynn Shelton (Monica) and Trina Willard (Lily).


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