According to the reputable Urban Dictionary, the term Bromance describes “a non-sexual relationship between two men that are unusually close.” Off the top of my head, I can think of three films from the last year or so that employ this concept as a main plot point: Pineapple Express, I Love You Man and Superbad. All solid comedies, and all born of an idea that has really only recently started gathering steam. Two straight guys, overcoming conflict together, and in the end being able to say “I love you.” It’s sweet, and as a guy with a few separate bromances, I’m always a little touched by it. Humpday, directed by Lynn Shelton, takes this idea to the (perhaps) logical conclusion, asking a question that, as far as I know, hasn’t been asked by a film before: What if two entirely hetero dudes chose to have sex with each other?
Ben (Mark Duplass) is a thirty-something on track for the white picket fence, trying to make a baby with his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). Andrew (Joshua Leonard) has spent the greater part of his life traveling and experiencing and just plain living. As divergent paths as two men could take, yet when Andrew shows up on Ben’s doorstep ten years since they last saw each other, their kinship resumes effortlessly. Ben tags along to a party with music-playing, cous-cous-eating, pot-smoking bohemians where, of course, the men end up discussing an upcoming amateur porn festival and what they would do if they were to actually enter the competition. And thus, under the guise of creating something “artsy,” the two men decide that heterosexual man sex would undoubtedly win, giving them both the opportunity to really do something. Each other, as it were.
Humpday is one of those films where you know what the main conflict is going to be, and you’re just waiting for it to get there. Will they have sex or won’t they?! It’s a bit of a simple jumping off point, and the impetus for the film probably came about under very similar circumstance as it does in the film. Namely, weed and booze, and a bunch of fucked up people lounging on a bed. That said, it actually isn’t a bad question to ask. This isn’t a story about two men trying to decide if they have feelings for each other, or determine how gay they might be. If anything, you’re reassured fairly promptly that these are two pretty straight guys. This is a story about limits and crossing them. The dynamic of Ben and Andrew is one of back and forth bettering, two guys who are competitive about their ability to be competitive. They’re two guys who probably followed through on a lot of dares growing up. Inasmuch as neither man can allow himself to back down, we come much closer to answering the penultimate question than you might initially think.
But, and this is where I need to insert the obligatory SPOILER ALERT…
The men don’t go through with it. They can’t. Sex isn’t an act of will and the technicalities of guy on guy action present their own insurmountable hurdles. Still, in the vast exchange that builds to their hopeful resolution Ben and Andrew analyze in detail the elements that keep them from going through with their plan, and as much as the physical elements aren’t in place, it’s the intangibles that stop them. This becomes less a question of how and more a question of why. Why are we here in this hotel room? Why have we taken this to such an extreme? To prove something. Not just to prove they can do something the other might not be capable of, not just to be the last to back out. They raised this question to the apex because it represents for both of them the absolute last thing they would ever want to do. Recognizing this makes the challenge seem somehow admirable, somehow seem a grander task than it’s roots may suggest. And that’s why it’s almost sad when they can’t follow through. It’s a failure. Though it may not be presented as such by the filmmaker, this is what it comes down to. The men fail in their task not because they don’t have sex, but because they grasp the significance of their resistance, and still turn away.
The message here is bigger than you’d think, which is always a feat for a filmmaker. Somehow though, the disappointment of seeing two men fail where you want them to succeed feels cheap. Cheap because as the viewer you do care. Sometimes it’s not enough just to take your audience on a journey. Sometimes you have to make them feel the journey has been worth it.