Aging (Somewhat) Gracefullyby Michael Fox January 29, 2018
Sam Hoffman’s resoundingly funny debut feature, “Humor Me,” imagines a well-appointed New Jersey retirement community as the setting for mid-life rejuvenation and resurrection. Neatly avoiding or flipping every cliché about seniors (cute, crotchety or flirtatious), the adult son – aging father dynamic and the theater, “Humor Me” is a warm-hearted, perfectly executed fable.
When his wife takes their young son and leaves him for a billionaire, talented-but-blocked playwright, Nate Kroll (New Zealand actor Jemaine Clement), has to move out of their Manhattan brownstone and into the guest bedroom at his dad’s town house at Cranberry Bog. Bob (a note-perfect turn by Elliot Gould), is an inveterate joke teller, but his repertoire doesn’t work on a 40-year-old failed artist.
“Life’s going to happen, son, whether you smile or not,” he declares, a philosophy that the audience can embrace more easily than Nate. If it contains a bit of Jewish fatalism, well, that’s Elliot Gould’s voice. So Bob’s jokes, which are consistently risqué and constructed with an ironic twist, have a faint air of the Borscht Belt about them. (It’s not a coincidence that Hoffman produced and directed the web series “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”)
There’s not a single stupid character in Humor Me, including Nate’s bland, successful brother (Erich Bergen), and this generosity of spirit means we’re always laughing with Nate’s foils, not at them. It helps immeasurably that Hoffman (best known for producing the TV show “Madame Secretary”) assembled a veteran cast (Annie Potts as Bob’s girlfriend, Le Clanché du Rand as a flirtatious senior, Bebe Neuwirth as a theatre heavyweight) who nails every last punch line and reaction shot.
“Humor Me” plays out the way we hope and expect it will, which is to say it delivers on its implicit promises. En route, it provides lots of smiles and several belly laughs. Even Nate, who’s well aware that he’s earned every joke that he’s the butt of, gets his share of one-liners. There’s plenty to go around, you see. Α