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Arts and Entertainment

LAist at Sundance: Day 1

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The Egyptian Theater around midnight on Friday, January 16th. | Photo courtesy of Josh Tate
The first day at the Sundance Film Festival is always a frantic rush. We arrive in Salt Lake City at the reasonable hour of noon and are on our way to Park City in our rental car within 30 minutes. Once we reach town, we decide to quickly shoot down to Main Street and grab a bite at one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Bandits Grill & Bar. The BBQ is good and, more importantly, the Wasatch beer is served in 25 oz. mugs (trust me, you need to drink that much since the alcohol content is watered-down by government fiat.

Once a huge lunch is done, it's time to brave the box office line at the bottom of Main Street and pick up our tickets. This year our condo had 12 people in it and everyone was buying tickets for everyone else due to the annoying lottery system that the festival employs. As you can probably imagine, reconciling who ultimately gets what tickets is a complete pain in the ass. Luckily, the main box office is not too crowded so we get our tickets quickly and zip over to festival headquarters to grab my press credential.

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Bend over and take it like a man! | Photo courtesy of Submarine Entertainment

In the lobby I see Wesley Snipes surrounded by two large bodyguards whom I presume are protecting him from IRS agents. Granted, I don't keep the tightest tabs on Wesley, but isn't he supposed to be in jail? The press room isn't too crowded so I get my press credential in five minutes. My friend Jon introduces me to Tim Coyne from The Hollywood Podcast who is still a bit surprised (and thankful) that he was issued a press pass. After that, it's finally time to strike out and see some movies!

The first film I can get lined up is Humpday. It stars mumblecore icon Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard and is directed by Lynn Shelton (who also acts in the film). The premise of the film is pretty simple and straightforward: two friends from college reconnect one night when the wild one, Andrew (Leonard) suddenly barges into newlywed Ben's (Duplass) house at two in the morning. The reunion is joyous though Ben's wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore) is taken aback by the intrusion and not too sure about Andrew.

From there Humpday seems content to tell a traditional story: Andrew and Ben renew their friendship at the expense of Anna and Ben's marriage. Things take a sharp and weird turn one night, though, when Ben meets Andrew at a party, gets incredibly drunk with him and his bohemian friends and then decides to make a porn film with him as part of an amateur porn festival fittingly called Humpfest. The twist is that Andrew and Ben decide it would be artistically meaningful if they--two straight men--have sex with each other.

To say that Humpday is uncomfortable is probably a fair statement, but to say that it is hysterical is a far more true one. You see, once Andrew and Ben sober up both of them are either too stubborn or too macho to back out of the arrangement. Ben actually insists that his marriage is so strong and his wife so understanding that she will go right along with the plan in the name of art. Of course, that's all nonsense. The scene in which she finds out what is really going on may be the funniest scene I've seen on film in a long while.

The film speeds towards it conclusion quite deliberately. Andrew and Ben make all the arrangements for their gay/straight porn film and meet in a scummy hotel room to do the deed. Where the film goes from there, you will have to see for yourself (Humpday will almost certainly get some sort of distribution, at least on IFC or Sundance Channel). What I will say, though, is that what happens isn't necessarily what you think will happen but is still completely valid, true (as in truth) and satisfying.

While Duplass is wonderfully awkward as Ben, it's Leonard's Andrew who dominates the film. Everyone seems to have one such friend in their life: the one who pursued a free and carefree life at the expense of security and stability. Shelton's direction is perfectly loose and casual (as the film's subject matter and style demand) and the loosely scripted improvisation never feels less than authentic. While many may cringe at the film's premise, Humpday combines great humor with some truly touching and poignant moments. Find it.

Not all experiences at Sundance turn out so well. After a great dinner at Bangkok Thai on Main and a few pints of Cream Ale at the Wasatch Brew Pub, we headed to the Egyptian to catch a midnight screening of the horror film, Grace. The film's premise sounded promising enough: in a nutshell, "zombie baby!". The execution, however, was tortuous. In its mannered pace and stillness. Grace toes the line between tension and boredom and falls flatly to the side of the latter.

It never feels good to pan an independent film that was clearly crafted with a great deal of care and in the face of troubling hurdles. However, Grace was just a complete dud. Prior to the film, the director ascended the stage of the Egyptian and warned the audience that after seeing his film, one might have second thoughts about having a baby. Unfortunately, the film failed to deliver on that promise. Neither creepy nor particularly scary (e.g. the film's scariest scene is a car crash early in the film), Grace is one that you can afford to miss.

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