Emily Blunt is having a field day at present, career-wise, dabbling in an assortment of film styles and character relationships. But perhaps her best work is when she is being completely natural and subtly funny, as in Humpday writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister as Iris. The film’s strength is in its realistic improvisation, like a window on three, average lives in a cocoon for a brief moment that will be easily forgotten tomorrow.
Jack (Mark Duplass) is finding it hard to get over the anniversary of the death of his popular brother, until his sibling’s ex, Iris (Blunt), suggests going away to her family’s forest retreat to recuperate. Unbeknown to either party, Iris’s lesbian sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), has been staying in the cabin beforehand to get over her failed, long-term relationship. After inviting Jack to stay overnight and drowning their sorrows over a bottle of tequila, the pair ends up in bed. The trouble is not only is this complicated, but Iris also arrives to find out how Jack is doing and to confess her true feelings for him.
Shelton’s filmmaking strength is allowing her characters to dictate the pace and escalate the situation in their own time. There are some seriously frank comments that sound totally unscripted from the start, as though all three are in some kind of reality TV show, unaware of and not bother when they are the focus of frame.
The casting is very complimentary – hence the on-screen triangle works so well, with Duplass as Jack like a less self-absorbed Jason Segel in stature (Blunt’s latest co-star in The Five-Year Engagement). He plays the part of the mumbling, self-depreciating oaf of social suicidal proportions who does and says the wrong thing but with admiral conviction. But his likeability factor is actually sealed from the start, whatever transpires, as it is established that he has a fan in Iris who is the social barometer. Blunt as Iris is also the social glue in the equation, wearing her heart on her sleeve with fetching, quirky honesty and delivering some wonderful lines, but is bound to come unstuck.
That said DeWitt as Hannah, the dark horse is the film’s intriguing player who stirs the situation and makes for the most exciting of the characters in their enclosed space. Hers is a different kind of confidence to her sister’s, and DeWitt explores her dangerous antics to the full, but with all the controlled emotion of a person with an agenda. Her performance does not detract from the other characters though, keeping the focus firmly and evenly on all three.
Where the film comes unstuck is sometimes the situations are not so important as to warrant dragging out the wordy scenarios the three find themselves in. Also, the ending is a bit of a let down and contrived to the ridiculous. This is not the first time Shelton appears to run out of subtle ideas on how to end her project, what with Humpday fizzling out in the finale too. It’s a shame, as Shelton’s rounded characters do seem to win you over at the start, as well as make you want to invest in them. Perhaps it’s the incessant banal dialogue surrounding the snippets of interest and little else happening that makes it feel like a chore to sit through at times – like eavesdropping on mundane gossip has its limits for some. Still, to take the namesake of her 2008 film, there is a ‘effortless brilliance’ in what she accomplishes from all her characters that should be applauded.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie