×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Humor Me’

"Old Jews Telling Jokes" creator Sam Hoffman's feature debut offers gags aplenty, though the drama never quite connects.

With:
Jemaine Clement, Elliott Gould, Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Annie Potts, Le Clanche du Rand, Rosemary Prinz, Priscilla Lopez, Cade Lappin, Willie C. Carpenter, Bebe Neuwirth, Joey Slotnick.

1 hour 32 minutes

Director Sam Hoffman is best known for his web series, “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” which he has already adapted into a book and an Off Broadway play. And in his feature film debut, “Humor Me,” the best moments involve exactly that. As told by Elliott Gould, “Humor Me” is chockablock with absurd, slightly blue, long-set-up gags involving a hapless protagonist named Zimmerman, portrayed throughout by Joey Slotnick in goofy black-and-white vignettes. The only trouble? Gould and his musty jokes are ultimately the side show here, with Hoffman’s film focusing on an equally musty plot involving a down-on-his-luck playwright (Jemaine Clement), who gets a second lease on life when he goes to live with his father at a New Jersey retirement community. Plenty endearing, and packed to the gills with wonderful AARP-aged actors who are clearly in tune with Hoffman’s old-school, Borscht Belt sensibilities, “Humor Me” manages to earn its audience’s indulgence, if never its full affection.

When we first meet Nate (Clement), he’s in the process of being fired by his dog-hoarding theater agent (Bebe Neuwirth), frustrated by his inability to finish his latest play. He arrives home to an even ruder awakening, as his wine-swilling art-dealer wife (Maria Dizzia) announces she’s leaving with their young son for a Riviera vacation with her billionaire new beau. Out of money, homeless, and shooed away by his Ken-doll real estate kingpin brother (Erich Bergen), Nate opts for his last resort: The spare bedroom of his father Bob (Gould), deep in the Cranberry Bog retirement community.

Nate has plenty of reasons to be depressed – and his thorny conversations with his constantly yukking dad hint at lingering resentment over how he dealt with the death of Nate’s mother – but his nonstop moping as he drifts around the community makes him an only sporadically engaging protagonist. To compensate, Hoffman offers up half a dozen brightly colorful characters, from a drill-sergeant groundsman (Willie C. Carpenter) to a group of bickering senior actresses (Annie Potts, Le Clanche du Rand, Rosemary Prinz) keen to put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Nate tries taking a job with the former, is summarily fired, and finally winds up as the volunteer director of the latter, gradually rediscovering his mojo, and striking up a relationship with one of the actresses’ daughter (Ingrid Michaelson), a thirtysomething piano player who’s found herself similarly adrift.

While Bob’s jokes sometimes do veer off toward unexpected punchlines, Nate’s arc follows an entirely predictable trajectory, which leaves a lot of slack when the narrative takes a darker turn in the later-going. None of this is Clement’s fault: Though his American accent slips at times, he puts in a committed shift as this narcissistic, if ultimately justifiably aggrieved man. In fact, at times his performance is almost too successful, and his fully-fleshed, three-dimensional protagonist rarely seems to inhabit the same planet as the cartoon characters buzzing around him. Fortunately, the shtick Hoffman offers to the rest of the cast is so broadly good-natured – with the retirement home setting allowing the director to get away some harmlessly politically incorrect gags – that the film is never a chore.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Humor Me'

Reviewed on DVD in Los Angeles, Jan. 10, 2018.

Production: A Shout Studios release of a Fugitive Films, Spitting Cobra Film production in association with Humorous Films, Superlative Films. Produced by Courtney Potts, Jamie Gordon, Sam Hoffman. Executive producers: Emily Blavatnik, Ruth Pomerance, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Fiona Rudin.

Crew: Directed and written by Sam Hoffman. Camera (color): Seamus Tierney. Editor: Paul Frank. Music: Gabriel Mann.

With: Jemaine Clement, Elliott Gould, Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Annie Potts, Le Clanche du Rand, Rosemary Prinz, Priscilla Lopez, Cade Lappin, Willie C. Carpenter, Bebe Neuwirth, Joey Slotnick.

More Film

  • David Goodman

    WGA West's David Goodman on Agency Strategy: 'We'll Start Meeting as Soon as Possible'

    David Goodman, who was resoundingly re-elected president of the Writers Guild of America West on Monday, said the guild plans to meet with several talent agencies soon in an effort to ease the impasse over packaging fees and affiliated production. “Many agencies had indicated that they wanted to wait to see the results of the [...]

  • Australian Outback

    Legend Media Seeks Trio of West Australia-China Co-Productions (EXCLUSIVE)

    Perth, Australia-based production company Legend Media is preparing a slate of three feature films to be produced with partners in China. The company styles itself as one that recognizes the opportunities for Asian engagement that have fallen to Australia, through geography, trade and culture. The company aims to make use of the bilateral film co-production [...]

  • David Goodman

    David Goodman Re-Elected President of Writers Guild of America West

    David Goodman has been convincingly re-elected to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America West, beating Phyllis Nagy in a bitter contest that became a referendum on the guild’s ongoing battle with talent agents. Goodman received 4,395 votes to Nagy’s 1,282 in an election that yielded record turnout among the WGA [...]

  • Issa Rae Portrait

    Issa Rae Developing Re-Imagining of Crime Thriller 'Set It Off'

    “Insecure” star and co-creator Issa Rae is in early development on a re-imagining of New Line’s crime thriller “Set If Off,” which starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Kimberly Elise. Rae will produce with plans to star in the project. Syreeta Singleton and Nina Gloster have been hired to pen the script. [...]

  • Thomas Golubic8th Annual Guild of Music

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

  • Gay Chorus Deep South

    Film News Roundup: Documentary 'Gay Chorus Deep South' Bought for Awards Season Release

    In today’s film news roundup, the documentaries “Gay Chorus Deep South” and “Tread” find homes, Tobin Bell’s latest horror film completes production and Emilio Insolera joins “355.” ACQUISITIONS MTV Documentary Films has acquired “Gay Chorus Deep South” for release during the fall for awards season consideration. Directed by David Charles Rodrigues, the film world premiered [...]

  • Bad Education

    What 'Bad Education' Taught Us About the Slow Toronto Film Festival Market

    “Bad Education,” a dramedy starring Hugh Jackman as the embezzling superintendent of district of schools in Long Island, N.Y., was set to be this year’s “I, Tonya.” The movie has the same biting tone, shifting between comedy and tragedy. It received strong reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival. And like “I, Tonya,” it even [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content