Thursday, December 24, 2009

Duplicity; Humpday

All the commercials made Tony Gilroy's Duplicity out to be a romantic comedy about zany spies trying to backstab each other and get in each other's pants at the same time, and it's really not that. It's the closest thing we've got to a modern day Stanley Donen caper picture, however, combining corporate espionage and intrigue with some PG-13 sexy romance. Clive Owen gets to pretend to be James Bond again, Julia Roberts gets to do the same thing she always does, Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson get to pick up their checks, and everybody goes home kinda satisfied but not overly so-- that waiter's not getting any extra gratuity, just the usual 15%. It sounds like I'm ragging on it here, but it's a decent movie.

Humpday, from "mumblecore" veterans Lynn Shelton (who writes, directs, and appears here) and Mark Duplass (co-director of The Puffy Chair, which I hated, and Baghead, which I loved, and star both here and on FX's the League, which is a great show), is also a decent movie, albeit the commercial opposite of Duplicity. Duplass plays Ben, a husband with a normal life (and wife), but his old buddy Andrew (Joshua Leonard, of Blair Witch and a bunch of other things), a Kerouacian free spirit, shows back up, and soon enough the duo, after much drinking, decide to enter an amateur porn festival together, in which they plan to film themselves going all slash fiction on each other. It turns into a ludicrous macho standoff, with neither one willing to back down from it, even at the cost of Ben's marriage. It is the most narratively monumental game of gay chicken ever.

In most hands, this movie would be an utter farce, a potentially Wildeian comedy of errors, but in the so-called "mumblecore" (I'm beginning to hate that word) movement, it's as grounded as possible, with the characters taking it pretty damn seriously. There's some issues with tone and storytelling here, but I don't really see how else the filmmakers could've pulled it off; they did the best job possible. Naturalism is the key with these mumblecore pictures, especially in the semi-improvised dialogue, and the acting. Leonard puts in a great performance as the wild card who isn't as wild as he tries to be, and who yearns to have the kind of life Ben does, though Ben is equally jealous of his friend. Alycia Delmore, however, as Ben's suffering wife and the only sane character in the entire film (though she has issues of her own), steals the whole thing, and should get some kind of award for this, though I sincerely doubt the Academy will be sending out screeners.

I didn't love it, but I'm glad to see these naturalistic films (way better than "mumblecore," right?) gaining more legitimacy and notoreity, and I'm interested to see what the participants do next. If they get too polished and Hollywood on us, however, they'll lose some of the magic.

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