Here’s a joke for you: Jemaine Clement and Elliot Gould agree to star in a micro-budget indie about a middle-aged guy who gets fired and dumped and has to move into his father’s retirement community where he gains a fresh perspective on life.
There is no punchline to this joke, just a great big question mark. Because it’s confounding that anyone is still writing a movie like Humor Me, let alone wrangling uber-talented superstars like Clement and Gould into starring in it.
The thing is, I’m about to rag on this movie a whole bunch, and for what I think are valid reasons (it’s a bad movie). But it’s competently made, has two of the most charismatic leads possible, and will make a lot of people go “huh, that was fun” after accidentally watching it on Netflix in five years. It’s not in-your-face bad, it hits all the right dramatic beats at all the right moments — its unoriginality is what makes it so insulting.
From the very first sequence, which has playwright Nate Kroll (Clement) getting fired, dumped, and moving into his father’s retirement community, to the very last sequence, in which — spoilers, but not really — everything turns out okay for everyone and Nate gets his life back on track and starts dating the hot musician who lives with her mom in the retirement community (Ingrid Michaelson), every single thing that happens in Humor Me has already happened in myriads of better movies. It’s astonishing how willing writer-director Sam Hoffman was to just be unoriginal.
For instance: is anyone really clamoring for more “old people smoking weed is funny” jokes? And does anyone still get a kick out of the classic “old woman aggressively coming on to younger man” bit? And I’m right in assuming that we’re all agreed that “old people talking about masturbation” is no longer hilarious? (Here’s a secret: none of these “old people doing stuff is funny” jokes have ever been funny, no matter how insistent writers are to keep putting them in movies and television.)
There’s a whole thing about Nate writing his father, Bob (Gould), into his plays, and the tension created by a writer writing about people in his real life. Adjacent to this is an almost retconned subplot about Nate and Bob getting closure on the death of Nate’s mother. (It’s almost like Hoffman isn’t aware of the fact that people have gotten fairly… dismissive of Garden State rip-offs.)
And then there’s the obligatory romance subplot involving Ingrid Michaelson as the daughter of another retiree in the community. She dumps her character’s backstory on us in an expository monologue about halfway through the movie; it’s not worth repeating here. All’s I’ll say about her is: you may have noticed never having seen Michaelson acting before, and that’s because Michaelson is not an actor.
Also, it would not be difficult to make an argument to the affect that Humor Me is fairly forward with its distaste toward women in general. But I don’t know that that would serve much purpose, as really the problem here is that Humor Me is just not a good movie.
Clement and Gould will always be eminently watchable, but not even they can save Humor Me from itself. One wonders if the people involved in the making of this film have just given up on the idea of being original, or telling new stories, or doing anything other than providing Netflix with a mostly inoffensive hour-and-a-half of barely adequate mundanity. Going forward, I’d encourage them to strive for more.