In “Humor Me,” star Jemaine Clement plays a once-successful playwright whose inability to finish his latest play costs him his marriage and conceivably, his career.
Nate is getting the “Don’t let yourself become irrelevant” lecture. Because he’s about to.
Art consultant Nirit (Maria Dizzia) has just taken their son and run off with a French billionaire. She’s not paying his rent any more. Fours years of never-finding-an-ending for a play he’s actually taken to rehearsals is enough for her. And for his producer (Bebe Neuwirth).
There’s nothing for it but to move in with Dad. In a retirement community. In New Jersey.
The good news? Dad is played by Elliott Gould, given his best role in decades. Bob is a shtick-slinging joke teller with an endless supply of “Zimmerman” jokes.
“So Zimmerman, just an ordinary guy, is in a car wreck.” The stories, presented in black and white flashbacks (Joey Slotnick is the hapless Zimmerman), crack up Bob’s pals at the senior center. Nate? He just cringes.
Bob wastes little time being defensive — “SOME people think I’m funny.” Look, he says, “Life’s going to happen, son, whether you smile or not.”
And that’s all writer-director Sam Hoffman’s little comedy is about. It’s a character study in shades of mopy, with the often-hilarious Clement dialing down his goofiness and making himself the foil for the old farts around him. Because those farts are funny.
Gould’s Bob power-walks, has a near live-in girlfriend and a lot of too-basic ideas for getting Nate out of his funk. Be productive, he says. He makes a list of household repairs and chores, sets him up in a custodial job. Ivy League drama degree or not, Nate’s going to snap out of his funk.
Of course there’s one “job” that’s perfect, and that’s taking over as director of a senior ladies production of “The Mikado.” Actually, there are just three ladies. Actually, all they want to do is a funny version of the “Three Little Maids” song. Actually, one of them is on a walker and simply refuses to sing.
But Dee (Annie Potts, adorable as ever) is game. Helen (Le Clanché du Rand) is a grand old lady of the arts convinced she has a shot with Nate. And Dee’s daughter (singer/writer Ingrid Michaelson), the piano accompanist, is cute and sassy and we think we know where that’s going.
Clement suffers amusingly, Gould remains a comic force of nature and Potts tickles as Dee and, in character, as Yum-Yum — Or was it Peep-Bo or Pitti Sing? Gilbert and Sullivan is hard to keep straight. Or keep a straight face through.
“Humor Me” is never much more than a comfort food comedy — funny people, given mildly funny situations and just enough funny things to say, find a few laughs and a lot of grins. And Clement, his years of daft character turns carried in his every action, is funny in his bones — even when he’s playing the straight man.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult themes
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Elliott Gould, Ingrid Michaelson, Annie Potts, Bebe Neuwirth, Joey Slotnick
Credits: Written and directed by Sam Hoffman. A Shout! Factory release.
Running time: 1:33