Humor Me is as flat as day-old cream soda.
The toothless comedy Humor Me offers two types of jokes: beige domestic banter about such insipid topics as the palatability of diet cream soda, and one characters’ off-color chestnuts about masturbation and bestiality. Stark tonal inconsistency aside, neither approach is the least bit funny, and the film unfurls into a rote middle-aged-son-gets-shit-together storyline in a woefully hackneyed script that can only prompt wooden, pause-for-laughter performances from its otherwise talented cast.
When struggling New York playwright Nate Kroll (Jemaine Clement, straining throughout the film to maintain a flimsy American accent) gets dropped by his agent (Bebe Neuwirth) and then dumped by his wife (Maria Dizzia) for a French billionaire, he has no alternative but to go live with his dad, Bob (Elliott Gould), in a gated retirement village. Bob’s a jokester, faking heart attacks and spinning raunchy yarns that director Sam Hoffman occasionally depicts through quirky black-and-white vignettes. Though he’s happy to offer the wayward Nate a spare room, Bob didn’t raise no freeloader, and he promptly makes a chore list for his 40-year-old son and sets him up with a grunt-work job for the cartoonishly militant community manager Ellis (Willie C. Carpenter). Benign hijinks ensue.
Nate eventually finds his way to directing a senior-citizen drama troupe, where a trio of retired women (led by Annie Potts) inject some “Golden Girls”-style sass into the proceedings, including such quips as “I like my sake cold, and my men warm!” This new creative outlet breaks Nate out of his slump—he even begins to strike up a vanilla romance with reformed enfant terrible Allison (singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson in her debut film role)—but it also prompts a home-video viewing of one of Nate’s old plays, which casts his father in a negative light. Turns out that Bob uses those lame dirty jokes as a crutch, shielding himself from the vulnerability inherent in interpersonal relationships as well as providing him cover from painful realities, such as his wife’s death.
By the time the film takes this serious turn, complete with a requisite health scare and maudlin denouement (scored with a sentimental song by Michaelson), it’s already poked enough fun at the expense of the elderly as to make its play for empathy seem in bad faith. But the moral of the story, even from the early-going, is clearly that Nate needs to take some time to figure his life out and learn how to open up to other people. It’s a story we’ve seen umpteen times before in similarly joyless dramedies (2014’s only incrementally more effective Adult Beginners comes to mind), only this time around none of the notable cast members seem very game to take many risks with the banal script—Potts’ willingness to recreate Topsy-Turvy’s “Three Little Maids from School” scene in full geisha makeup notwithstanding. Gould stiffly bumbles through his role as Bob, and the film’s humor is too unsophisticated to be salvaged by Clement’s natural comedic chops, his offbeat sensibilities remaining firmly shackled here. And the more melodramatic scenes feel synthetic no matter who’s involved. Despite the heavy-handed insertion of jokes about jerking off in doctors’ offices and desert island castaways getting horny for sheep, Humor Me is as flat as day-old cream soda.