The trouble with Humpday is not that it is a bad film, it is simply inconsequential, yet another in a line of mumblecore movies, a category marked by rambling, low-energy stories dealing with relationships between generally bored, white, Generation Y shoe-gazers. If you’ve seen one of these mumblecore miniatures you’ve seen them all.
Humpday, like its brethren, consists entirely of conversations and situations in which absolutely nothing seems to be at stake, play-acted by characters that are annoyingly opaque. The improvised dialogue, meant to seem organic and natural, is consistently unconvincing, delivered as if the actors are work-shopping tentative material. The often crude technique, the generic music, the unappealing aimlessness and lack of intellectual curiosity in the characters all contributes to a sense you are watching the most uninteresting people on the planet doing the most routine things. Even though the filmmakers might try to tell you otherwise, a complete lack of an aesthetic is not a new aesthetic. I will say that Humpday’s camerawork, although epileptic, is at least professionally done, as are all of the other production aspects. The mumblecore makers seem to be learning from their on-the-job training. But in nearly every other respect, Humpday is completely implausible.
After a promising beginning, in which a 30-something couple lying in bed confess they are both too tired to have sex, the movie unintentionally veers into fantasy when the husband’s long time friend shows up on their doorstep, spends the night, and they later attend a party in which they decide, drunkenly, to make a short film for something called Humpfest, an annual Amateur Porn contest. You know the idea will evaporate the next day in the clear light of a hangover, but writer-director Shelton instead hangs the rest of her film on the absurd possibility that these two schlumpy dudes will go through with it. Guess what? They don’t and they never would, but nevertheless we have to sit through an hour of hollow conversational confrontations dressed up with stumbling pauses and inexpressive blurts—you know, the organic parts.
Shelton and her actors might also try to tell you that they are saying something real about relationships, about the facades men construct for each other, about the need to work out your old bugaboos about sexual identity before you decide to get married, have a baby, or have sex with your best friend. The characters say all of these things, blandly, while engaging in some contrived bits of business. Note to filmmakers everywhere: never have two guys play a scene while shooting backyard basketball when it is obvious they’ve never shot baskets in their life.
I realize it is important not to get too worked up by movies like Humpday. The film appeals to an extremely limited demographic, although I’m not sure what that is. But I’m disheartened by the thought that Humpday may carry some sort of regional flag for the type of filmmaking the rest of the country can expect from the Northwest. I’m hoping there is a local filmmaker out there right now working on a film more demanding, artful, and memorable than Humpday.