Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Show of Affection: Humpday

While we were away, and away from each other -- he with his family and I with mine -- the husband and I talked on the phone every day, sometimes twice a day. Nothing terribly important was said, but then, that was hardly the point. We are seldom apart. Talking together, daily, however briefly, is the expected and necessary thing. Entirely as it should be. Beyond the review of itineraries and usual catching up, we each simply needed the sound of the other's voice. We did however talk regularly about the movies we might be seeing together were we not apart., the movies we might see when we got home, and the movies we'd missed by not going before we left. We always talk about the movies we may or may not see. We seem to enjoy talking about movies almost more than we watch them. This is the kind of pointless maundering we seem to miss most when not together. Unlike, say sex, I don't know that either of us would enjoy this sort of thing with anyone but the other.

(I hesitate to describe this kind of long-married behavior. Many of one's friends in blessed singleness, and not a few who might themselves be married, are quite rightly bored by the inevitable recurrence of such unthinking, cozy reference to coupled contentment. I hope I don't, in this way, too often contribute to the discomfort of my friends, using the plural when the singular is meant or would do. I do not myself trust anyone not royal who says "we think," or "we want," or "we wish," unless jointly addressing legitimate offspring. I've known people who do talk this way: couples in matching sweaters, individuals who assume every invitation to be inclusive of partners, women, and men, gay and otherwise, who in taking up with someone, come somehow to so happy an end as to refuse thereafter any distinction, however usual or trivial, even for the sake of sense, that separates the pair.

"How are you?"

"WE are fine."

I will say, being as we are so much together, it sometimes takes a conscious effort to not too much reference dear A. in even the most incidental way, which is not to say I make myself leave him out of a story, but rather that I am aware that our story need not illustrate every point, that we do not together represent any unique virtue or point any lesson in patience, respect or love that might not be better made from materials other than our unexceptional happiness. We are no more than the sum of our increasingly immovable parts, and if I do talk, or write too much as a married man, it is not from any sense of conjoined superiority, I hope, believing no such thing, but only because my experience has been as such for so long as to leave me unsure of any authority in the memory of when I was otherwise. I have been as I am now, coupled, all my adult life. It is not a judgement, just a fact, like being fat -- as we both now are -- and, I suppose, just as obvious. I hope I am no more supercilious about the one than I am self-conscious about the other.)

Back at last in our routines after vacationing, we have settled into our usual summer habit of discussing more movies than we see and seeing more movies than we go to. Rental-by-mail, and expensive cable-television have taken something of the charge out of getting dressed on a Sunday just to see a movie. When we do go now, at least before Oscar Season comes, we tend to do so almost on a whim. We did so just this past weekend, and we were lucky.

"Humpday" is, among other wonderful things, a comedy of commitment. The premise is farcical, but the story is grounded in the kind of authentically observed affection from which so many sex comedies shy, or into which such movies try slyly to slip only in the last act. One of the very real, and very rare, pleasures of Lynne Shelton's movie is the consistency with which she and her collaborators have explored the silliness surrounding sex without once suggesting that sex is anything less than consequential, complicated, and yet, not always as important as we make it, when we're not too tired or uncomfortable to make it at all.
The reunion of buddies Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard), the former married, settled and contemplating fatherhood, the latter still drifting, leads to a drunken dare, from which neither will withdraw in the sober light of day. Seattle's free newspaper, The Stranger, sponsors an annual amateur porn contest, and for want of any likelier project, the guys decide to enter with an "edgy" film of two straight men having sex with each other. Consequences ensue, particularly for Andrew and his delightful wife, played charmingly by Alycia Delmore.

Shelton & her cast evidently improvised fairly elaborate back-stories for these characters, and it seems to have worked wonderfully well, as the relationships all seem completely believable as established. The great sophistication of the movie is in never stepping back from these relationships, in refusing any kind of distance -- Shelton's budget may have dictated the intimacy of her camera, but she has used this to the advantage of the story, focusing on logical pairings, using sustained close-ups and tightly observed conversations, to keep her audience too close to indulge any but the most cursory kind of objections. (It would seem rude to call these boys idiots to their faces.) Delmore is specially good at being entirely present on screen, her lovely big eyes often as not wide with a touchingly funny mix of confusion and tolerance. This is a good woman, in a good marriage, experiencing an almost unbelievably stupid challenge. How often are we allowed such a female character on screen? Moreover, the reality of the straight marriage isn't used to undermine or foil the love of these two men, but rather it lends credibility to the depth of the male friendship. At the heart of the movie then is what looks and feels like genuine affection -- imagine -- and this in a movie that could not be more preoccupied with the limits and boundaries of masculinity. It is remarkable, and encouraging, that in a comedy ostensibly about "gay panic" between straight men, there is no hint of the misogyny or homophobia that more usually would be the starting point for every joke.

I was reminded of a comedy we enjoyed earlier in the summer, "The Hangover." Not to belabor the point, but the difference between these two,quite funny comedies, to my mind, might be as simple as the gender of the director, though I think the difference in the sensibility of each might be a better way to say the same thing. "The Hangover" was also a comedy dependent on friendship and premised on something of a prank. As I said, it was a funny movie, but just a bit mean, in a boyish way, frankly a little terrified, I think, of its intermittent sentimentality, any hint of tenderness between men quickly, and rather ruthlessly mocked as it passed; a punch after every hug, as it were. Additionally, "The Hangover" doesn't really give a shit about women. It doesn't hate them, it insists on the cliche of their almost supernatural power over men, and predictably, resents this, making a joke of it, thus dismissing the possibilities and responsibilities inherent in acknowledging the humanity of wives, girlfriends, and even, yes, the whore, though she, again predictably enough, seems the easiest to like. Really, the only women in the movie for more than a minute or two, were a whore and a shrew, otherwise, "The Hangover" was all about the fellas. And where "Humpday" actually explores straight discomfort, "The Hangover" indulges it, with an extended caricature of an gay Asian gangster, various fag jokes, and a predictable -- and sad -- embarrassment about masculine affection which never the less is the whole bloody point of the movie. Now maybe "Humpday" manages to be so much more an adult comedy because it is a woman directing it, but more than that I think, it is a comedy, unlike "The Hangover," unembarrassed by intimacy.


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