The Buddy System

Male bonding spirals out of control in Lynn Shelton's Humpday

Humpday ** 1/2

Opens Friday areawide.

When college BUDDY Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up at Ben's doorstep one night, Ben (Mark Duplass) feels obligated to take the guy in. After all, the two were inseparable at one point before going in separate directions. Post-college, Andrew traveled the world, while Ben got married and bought a house. And even though Andrew tells Ben, "I respect the fuck out of you," he also thinks his pal — who works as a transportation planner — has made some serious compromises.

So it's not long before Andrew is dragging Ben to crazy parties and trying to get him to recapture those halcyon days of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. And when a drunken discussion about entering an amateur porn conversation comes up, the two challenge each other to make a film. The twist is that Ben and Andrew decide to make a "dude-on-dude" film that's "beyond gay."

"I wanted to take a really simple approach to a story and put characters in a situation that's out of their comfort zone," says writer-director Lynn Shelton. "If you really know who the characters are, you can place them in there like lab rats and see what happens and how they react."

Shelton already had a loose concept for the film in mind when a friend of hers attended the Hump Festival, a real amateur porn festival in Seattle. He saw gay porn for the first time and told Shelton about his "weird reaction." The film evolved from there, and Shelton cast Duplass (whom she knew from Sundance hits like The Puffy Chair and Baghead), along with Leonard, an aspiring filmmaker Duplass recommended.

"[Duplass] said, 'There is vibe between the two of us,'" says Shelton. "There was a touch of friction too. If they'd been born 500 years ago on the opposite sides of the battlefield, they would have spent their lives trying to destroy each other."

Shelton says she wanted the film to be a collaborative work and sought the actors' input while the script was still being written. She says the guys aren't playing themselves, but they helped shape the characters, twisted as they might be.

"All of these different working methods are trying to create a resonant experience," says Shelton. "Authenticity is at the heart of it. I want people to recognize themselves and their friends."

And while Shelton's films (Humpday is her third feature) tend to center on the straight male experience, she says she's not opposed to making a movie about women.

"Somebody just asked me, 'Are you fascinated by men?'" says Shelton. "But I can't wait to make a female-centered movie. I just love people, and I've always been a people watcher who loves to sit down and interview folks. I like trying to crack people open. Straight guys do have this particular bittersweetness and poignancy. But then everyone wants to connect to other people, and that makes for dramatic tension. That might be one reason I gravitate toward straight guys."

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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