It’s a real shame that Humor Me, written and directed by Sam Hoffman (Old Jews Telling Jokes), is coming out so hot off the heels of Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories. With its indie budget sensibilities and limited screening vibe, it’s bound to end up on a streaming service like Netflix as well. Sadly, there isn’t anything done better or different here that you can’t find in that similar yarn about a divorcee, out of work, missing his child and forced to deal with his estranged father.
Even if you’ve never heard about Noah Baumbach’s adjacent (and superior) film, Humor Me still suffers from being overly familiar and tidy. Hoffman has some experience shooting CBS’ Madame Secretary and his film appears to carry that network’s house style. The film barely registers at meaningfully exploring its father (Elliot Guild as Bob) and son (Jemaine Clement as Nate) dynamic and saves all of the messy details that could have made this story interesting for its final 20 minutes.
Maybe being deep isn’t on Hoffman’s mind and that’s fine I suppose, but the missteeps are unfortunate, because clearly the picture was made with a great amount of heart. Hoffman obviously loves and appreciates old fashioned setup-punchline jokes to his film’s detriment. Still, just like the old-timer in your life, even the bad jokes become a little endearing. Kudos must also be delivered for Hoffman’s use of a black and white joke recreation device, some of the only scenes behind a chuckle-worthy, low-speed chase and Nate’s staged finale that are delivered with some flare.
Humor Me also deserves credit for simply giving actors of a certain age substantial screen time. Elliot Gould isn’t asked to do a whole lot but deliver Hoffman’s precious knee slappers while doing a cliché old guy, but he manages to make Bob memorable. Annie Potts of Ghostbusters fame pops up in a fun minor role, but it’s Priscilla Lopez as Bob’s new girlfriend Connie that left the biggest impression on me. Out of all of Humor Me’s characters, Connie felt the least like a sketch. The movie is so thin though that if I suggest you even the vaguest specifics on the plot, you could probably imagine how most of action that plays out on the screen.
Jemaine Clement is as solid as he is in all of his work, but can’t manage to hide his New Zealand accent for longer than a couple seconds at a time. Maria Dizza and singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, in her first film role, also co-star as Nate’s soon-to-be ex-wife and love interest, respectively, but are written as such stock types that they aren’t able to shine. Clement and Michaelson’s scenes are the clunkiest in the film, so formulaic and cheesy that even the finest thespians would sound uninspired.
Even with all of its shortcomings, I would never call Humor Me an entirely bad film. Your parents would likely love it, but it’s just too by the numbers and afraid to get heavy to earn a full recommendation. Regardless, just like one of the jokes that Bob tells, even if you’ve heard this one before, you’ll still humor it with a smile.