International Jewish Film Festival : Humor Me

Writer and Director: Sam Hoffman

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The mid-life slump can be a particularly difficult proposition and is a frequent subject for drama, the point at which someone has built a career and family, when adult life has become entirely routine before it all blows-up in their faces. Sam Hoffman’s protagonist in Humor Me faces that exact dilemma when all stability is suddenly taken-away, and he is forced to move into his father’s retirement village where he tries to regain his drive to start again.

After failing to complete his tricky second play, Nate is dropped by his producer and dumped by his wife on the same day. Cast adrift with nowhere to go, Nate is forced to seek help from his father and despite an antagonistic relationship must live together for the first time in decades. When Bob gets Nate a manual job on the complex, he is drawn into the lives of the other residents, while a drama society production of The Mikado may just give him the boost he needs.

Humor Meis a film with very little plot, launching its characters into a succession of not particularly funny scenarios that fill 90-minutes but never quite gels. We follow the reluctant Nate through a series of activities as he learns to fold towels, bonds with his absent son over Skype and endures repeated collisions with his disapproving father, but Hoffman’s film seems as adrift as its central character so it’s never quite sure where it’s going.

Jemaine Clement’s Nate lacks energy so the whole performance has a fairly monotone delivery which makes it hard to root for him. Even when he apparently rediscovers his ‘fight’ there is very little sense of the film shifting a gear as Nate gets himself back on track. Clement’s withdrawn approach means Nate always seems like the victim of circumstance but of his own making, so his ongoing weakness and refusal to take control of himself are more frustrating than sympathetic.

There are some half-hearted attempts soften the character with an affection for his son Gabe, an adorable Cade Lippin who steals every scene, and an unconvincing romance with Allison (Ingrid Michaelson) the drama group’s keyboard player who claims a wild drug-taking past but looks far too wholesome to have ever been on the road with her supposed band. Ultimately if you don’t invest in the journey of the central character and those around him the whole film falls rather flat.

Elliott Gould has a strangely empty role as Nate’s father Bob, and while there’s clearly a lifetime of antipathy between them stemming from the death of Nate’s mother, the attempt to reconcile them is confusing with their relationship fluctuating inconsistently from scene to scene. Bob tells a series of jokes about a man called Zimmerman that punctuate the movie, and are occasionally visualised in black and white, but it adds little as a metaphorical device.

Humor Me has a central message about second chances and, like the residence of the retirement community, taking life’s opportunities as they come along. There’s also something to say about the bond between fathers and sons that may go awry but still endure. Despite its title, however, Hoffman’s film just cannot sustain the joke all the way through without a central character you can believe in.

The 22nd UK International Jewish Film Festival takes place between 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow http://ukjewishfilm.org/

Release Date: 13 November 2018 

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