Here’s an irony for you, a woman (Lynn Shelton) writes a movie about two male friends and the uncomfortable homo-eroticism that can often arise in such situations but to the Nth degree. More shockingly, it often works.
Whereas Kevin Smith and, arguably his more successful contemporary, Judd Apatow would break the silence with uncomfortable moments with such Shakespearean lines as “Dude, that’s gay”, Shelton embraces it, channeling it in one very awkward buddy movie.
Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) are best friends from college who perhaps watched too many beatnik 60’s movies and a decade on, have taken wildly diverging paths; Ben is married to the worryingly supportive Anna (Alycia Delmore), working as a transport engineer in suburban Seattle and deciding if a baby is the next step to take in his creatively impotent life; Andrew isn’t much better, just back from Mexico where he lived the life of an artist, he has yet to actually contribute anything significant other than taking advantage of Ben and Anna’s inability to kick him out when he appears one night asking for a place to stay.
not even 30 minutes into the running time, the insecure penis measuring begins and so do the 30-something crises, culminating in an agreement at a bohemian house party to enter a film of the two of them having sex for a amateur porn festival – “It’s not gay; it’s beyond gay. It’s not porn; it’s art.”
You would wonder if they, or the director for that matter, had ever heard of “gay for pay” before.
The two main characters are perfectly cast, their improvised dialogue evident and one of the highlights, especially in the pre-coital hotel room scene when they’re forced to deal with the actual implications of what they’ve agreed to do in full. It is Anna however, that often comes across as the most three-dimensional character (despite the lack of screen time compared to the others) when she points out the selfishness of Ben’s plan and that she too has desires and needs that are not always fulfilled by their marriage.
This selfishness is never far from the surface, as no matter what Shelton does, she is incapable of truly explaining the merits in their existential quandaries; there is no concern for anyone else within the plans they made and even less after the fact. The style of shooting is of even greater harm, in trying to highlight Ben and Andrew’s lack of attraction for each other the director in the end results in something rather sterile and perhaps far too truthful. Neither man is an Adonis but all we seem to see are their flaws and it’s never really considered how they thought they could go through with it without the smallest spark of attraction even on a superficial, impartial level.
Overall, the project works on little more than on a surface level, but if you can get over that, it’s a genuinely funny examination of male dynamics as seen by a woman.