What it's about: Nate [Jemaine Clement] is a once-successful playwright who is struggling with both his work and family. He can't find an ending on his latest work and his wife has left him for a French billionaire the week before his lease is up. With no other options, he moves in with his father [Elliott Gould] at his retirement community. Nate is recruited to work with the small theater group in the community, "The Cranberry Bog Players," to direct a selection of scenes from Arthur Sullivan's The Mikado. With his life spiraling out of control, his re-established relationship with his father and the low-scale artistic challenge give him a new purpose in life.
There is a running joke throughout Humor Me that Nate is a unimpressive looking person. This just doesn't jive with Jemaine Clement, who may not everyone's idea of handsome but he is certainly distinguished.
That said, Clement with a New Jersey accent is bizarre. Though he actually pulls it off pretty well, it is strange.
What is not usually the case for these kinds of indie dramadies, Humor Me is actually more effective in the earnest dramatic moments than the broad character comedy. It is obvious when the film is trying to be too precious -- Nate's producer coincidentally showing up to the big night with the Cranberry Bog ladies, for example, or getting a job folding towels while being ridiculed by his drill sergeant like old man manager. But when the focus is on Nate remembering his departed mother or having Skype conversations with his young son, it somehow works. Seriously, this is probably the best use of Skype moments I've seen in a film.
And Clement works really well in the dramatic moments, too. I'm excited for him breaking out into more film and Humor Me is a good step after his leading role in the smart rom-com People Places Things.
If you think elderly women hitting on younger men is funny, there is plenty of that in Humor Me. For me, it is pretty flat and obvious.
Ingrid Michaelson plays a young woman who lives with her mother on the grounds while battling addiction. I'm not familiar with Michaelson, who is making his feature film debut, but I gather that she is a fairly popular singer. When a few pop songs played on the soundtrack, I had the suspicion that there was a connection there and I was right.
The two non-elderly people living in the retirement community somehow having a romantic connection with each other is a little silly.
Elliott Gould's running character trait is a series of dirty jokes about a man named Zimmerman [Zimmerman's doctor tells him to stop masturbating ... so he can start his examination, etc.]. The longer, more elaborate jokes are shot with Joey Slotnick playing Zimmerman. These aren't particularly funny, fairly stock, but they surprisingly pay off in a few different moments: a bonding moment recounting Nate's mother's reaction which is more poignant and funny than the punchline of the joke and a glimpse into Nate's stage work that shows his father's incessant joke telling from a much starker point-of-view.
Humor Me is director Sam Hoffman's debut feature but he has had a very interesting career in Hollywood. Most of his filmography is as an assistant director, starting as a second assistant director on A League of Their Own, Groundhog Day, and Rudy before taking on assistant director roles for filmmakers like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, and Richard Linklater. These three particular directors can all be seen in Humor Me but you'd have to squint pretty hard. Hoffman doesn't have much of a personal style yet and his best work might come in more dramatic work.