Unhappy ‘Humpday’


by Sarah Knoploh and Matt Philbin [media critics]

Predictably, media love movie about straight men and gay sex.

Filmmakers, do you want to impress critics at The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, while alienating vast legions of moviegoers? Then “Humpday,”  has the formula for you!

Have your two “straight” male leads have sex with each other in a video for an “experimental homemade pornography” film festival. Oh, and in order to impress those writers (whom you may run into at a Manhattan cocktail party) make sure to stress that it’s not gay and it’s not porn either. It’s art masquerading as “bromance” comedy. Don’t worry, they’ll understand that you’re critiquing straight men or straight society or our uptight Puritanical culture or something. After all, they’re smart like you.

Starring Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard, “Humpday” is about two college friends who reconnect. Ben (Duplass) has settled down with a wife. Andrew (Leonard), on the other hand, has not and has been traveling as an artist. After a night of partying, they dare each other “to enter an amateur porn contest together.” Even if two straight men would ever broach such a subject, they presumably would sober up in time and let the thing die in embarrassed silence.

But it’s entirely plausible to the kind of critics that think “Humpday” is somehow important.

Mary Pols, of Time, wrote, “Ben and Andrew are like a pair of little boys, pummeling each other constantly to make contact. Watching them in an angry wrestling match after a competitive basketball game, you start to think that maybe they should make out, crazy as it seems. That’s the power of this subversive movie; it challenges us as much as it challenges its own characters. ‘Humpday’ makes you squirm and think, in the best possible way.”

Squirm indeed.

Pols mused, “Ostensibly, Ben and Andrew’s conversations are about sexual boundaries and the ways in which straight men, even enlightened ones, recoil at the thought of gay sex (male, that is), but they are just as much about the limits of adult friendships and the boxes we often put our oldest friends in.” Here’s a thought: straight men, even the “enlightened ones” (ie. the ones Pols would be caught eating arugula with), do not want to have gay sex. If they wanted to have gay sex, they would not be straight.

In article about other bromance movies of the summer, Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh quoted “Humpday” director Lynn Shelton saying, “straight men are really invested in being assured they’re straight. There seems to be anxiety about that. But I’ve seen these relationships in my life, men in love with each other, these man crushes. What does that mean?” Setoodeh answered Shelton’s question, “It means that as long as you keep laughing, Hollywood is the new city of brotherly love.”

Here’s another answer: in the bizarro world of popular culture, where every thought is punctuated with “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” being unambiguously straight is the orientation that dare not speak its name. It’s guys who like women – and just women – that are the unhealthy ones.

The New York Times’ Stephen Holden wrote, “To guys everywhere: ‘Humpday’ has your number. With X-ray vision, this serious indie comedy, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, sees through its male characters’ macho pretensions to contemplate the underlying forces hard-wired into men’s psyches in a homophobic culture. Think of it as a Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith buddy film turned inside out.”

Ah, hard-wired homophobia! Of course.

With “Bruno” and “Humpday” both being released this summer, a whole lot of benighted, homophobic men will indulge their “macho pretensions” and stay in their caves. And that’s good news; movie critics hate long lines for popcorn. ExileStreet

copyright 2009 Culture and Media Institute

Sarah Knoploh and Matt Philbin write for the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center

Culture & Media Institute

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