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Writer-director Sam Hoffman has had enormous success with Old Jews Telling Jokes, which started out as a web series, then became a best-selling book as well as a popular play. Now, Hoffman makes his feature directorial debut with Humor Me, which is not exactly a spinoff of that material but does incorporate scenes with old Jews telling jokes. They are a group who congregate in the dining room of a New Jersey retirement community called Cranberry Bog. (No kidding!)
One of these wisecracking retirees, Bob, played by Elliott Gould, is the father of our main character, Nate (Jemaine Clement), a struggling playwright who moves in with Dad when his wife kicks him out. There aren’t enough good jokes in the movie to match the play’s success, but it does have some modest charms for a somewhat older audience.
Bob’s advice to his son is that humor can help to relieve life’s setbacks, but he does not seem to want to engage with the real problems that bedevil Nate. Yet the father-son conflicts are a bit too mild to generate much urgency. The film gains momentum when Nate agrees to coach a group of women in the retirement community who are trying to mount a concert version of The Mikado. The women involved in this activity are played by a droll quartet of actresses — Priscilla Lopez, Annie Potts, Le Clanche du Rand and Rosemary Prinz. And their interplay with Nate is often raucously funny, especially when du Rand tries to seduce the befuddled Nate.
Performances are this movie’s strong suit. Gould could use some better material, but he sketches his character deftly and demonstrates his professional savvy. Even though Clement’s New Zealand accent sometimes slips through his New York Jewish façade, he makes a winsome sad sack hero. Ingrid Michaelson as a potential new love interest and Willie Carpenter as a manager at the retirement community enhance the ensemble. Bebe Neuwrith has a neat cameo as Nate’s astringent agent.
This film, which is slickly produced, could use a bit more dramatic momentum as well as a few more boisterous laughs, but it does get you rooting for Nate to break out of his funk.
Production companies: Fugitive Films, Spitting Cobra Films
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Elliott Gould, Ingrid Michaelson, Annie Potts, Priscilla Lopez, Bebe Neuwirth
Director-screenwriter: Sam Hoffman
Producers: Courtney Potts, Jamie Gordon, Sam Hoffman
Executive producers: Emily Blavatnik, Ruth Pomerance, Danielle Renfrew Bahrens, Fiona Rudin
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Tania Bijlani
Costume designer: Amy Roth
Editor: Paul Frank
Music: Gabriel Mann
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival (Premieres)
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