'Humpday' takes the familiar and gives a naughty tweak

I walked into "Humpday" expecting grainy, hand-held art, and an episode of the "The Honeymooners" broke out.

That's a good thing, for you younguns who don't know from Jackie Gleason.

Lynn Shelton's "Humpday" is a festival hit that gained a reputation as the indie-world "bromance," probing the homoerotic subtext to male friendship, and ruminating on sexual identity.

Almost none of that is true. Yes, it's about two male friends who decide they're going to get it on and film it, but as the movie makes hilariously clear, latent impulses and physical desire have little to do with their doltish scheme.

The genesis of their project (and their predicament) is male ego and macho one-upsmanship, rooted in the timeless conflict between the domesticated man and the single dude.

Ben (Mark Duplass) is the happily married fellow, in a tame and affectionate relationship with Anna (Alycia Delmore), already in the sweatpants phase of their marriage. Shelton stacks the deck only slightly, introducing them as they crack each other up while simultaneously conceding that they're both too tired for sex.

A loud knock interrupts their happy slumber - it's Ben's best friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a self-styled wild-man just back from an extended stay at an Amazonian art colony, or some such thing.

Shelton has a classicist's eye for the dramatic dimensions of this situation, and she's a girl, so we see this reunion through the suspicious eyes of Anna, who immediately recognizes the presence of this unaffiliated man as destabilizing.

And, of course, she's right. In no time, the two are out for drinks, which leads to a party at some bohemian address, where the men get drunk and try to impress a couple of hippie chicks (Shelton herself is the blonde).

The subject turns to an upcoming porn fest (an actual Seattle event called Humpfest) and in their cups, the men attempt to prove their open-mindedness and bravado by proposing an entry of their own. Two straight dudes getting it on. It's not gay. It's not porn. It's art!

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But when they sober up, neither Mark nor Josh is willing to back down. For Mark, it's a point of pride - he thinks to relent will be to admit that he's a square, that he's less free than Mark (which he is).

And Josh, who secretly regards himself as a failure, sees this as a test of his personal mettle.

What does any of this have to do with "The Honeymooners"? It's in the story's simple design. Mark doesn't have the stones to tell his wife about his film project, and he's ashamed to tell Andrew that he's ashamed to tell his wife. This leads to a sidesplitting scene in which Andrew and Anna sit down for a heart to heart, and it slowly dawns on Anna what Ben's gotten himself into.

It's the foundation on which a thousand sitcoms are built - two dopey guys trying to put one over on someone's wife, and being discovered. It may be familiar, but gloriously so, and yields what may be the year's funniest scene.

And I think it's the familiarity that pulls the audience along, and allows us to stick with the lurching premise until the end.

There are those who see the finale as a cop-out, but they're looking for sexual politics, and that's not what you're going to get from these poor, benighted dudes.


Humpday

Directed by Lynn Shelton. With Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 33 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for some strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use).