Not since Albert Brooks moved back in with his mom Debbie Reynolds in the 1996 comedy Mother has the idea of re-nesting been so simultaneously funny and painful as it is in Humor Me, the directorial debut from writer-producer-humorist Sam Hoffman. Hoffman also founded the website oldjewstellingjokes.com, which is exactly what you'd think it would be, and here he brings a dash of that dad-like humor to the story of Nate (Flight of the Conchords alum Jemaine Clement), a playwright grappling with a series of events so shitty it might have taken him into suicide territory if he weren't so hysterically clueless.
Nate's new magnum opus isn't going well, his wife (Maria Dizzia of TV's Red Oaks) leaves him for a billionaire ("You say that like it's a bad thing," she tells Nate of her new beau's net worth), taking their young son, and our hero is forced to move in with his dad (a brilliantly charming Elliott Gould) in his nightmarish retirement community, Cranberry Bog. Yes, this is actually what the community is called. Obviously these are dire straits, and between sexually charged octogenarians, his constantly joking father and the bizarre yet awkwardly fitting choice to mount a performance for the community of a scene from The Mikado with a cast of difficult residents, Nate is obviously depressed.
Clement revels in the absurd sadness he must embody, churning out a believable sad bastard whose denial shields him from his own shortcomings. Nate's a little less tragic than he is ridiculous, though—and, billionaires aside, we've lived his story, or damn near close to it. And though Humor Me may hit a series of predictable beats and avoids really digging in to the material, its extended cast (Bebe Neuwirth and Annie Potts to highlight the best) lends authenticity, even if it feels exaggerated and distorted.
Ah, but it's a comedy—even if it does delve into the outskirts of heart-wrenching—and we develop real feelings for its characters. This makes it a solid first effort from a new director and a clever showcase for lesser-known actors to prove what they can do. Take your mom, take your dad. They'll love it.
+Clement and Gould are fantastic
-Nothing too impactful or deep
Directed by Hoffman
With Clement, Gould, Potts and Neuwirth
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 93 min.