Occasionally deeply funny and full of heart, Sam Hoffman's family comedy Humor Me follows the story of a once-famous playwright who must move back in with his jokester father to reclaim his career and sense of self. But Hoffman's feature debut is hampered by well-worn tropes the writer/director seems at first to be aware of — and playing with — before he leans so hard into them that whatever originality the film at first displayed crashes right into a well of rom-com cliche, complete with a scene of a woman chastising a man for walking away from difficult things. Why in the movies do men searching for personal redemption always fall in love at the same time?
Hoffman's casting instincts prove invaluable. He pairs Elliott Gould with a sans-accent Jemaine Clement as bickering father and son Bob and Nate. Bob regales the residents of the Cranberry Bog seniors community with his arsenal of "Zimmerman" zingers, some classic Jewish jokes. Nate, a sad sap who can't finish his next play and loses his wife to a French billionaire, is the self-serious opposition to Bob's good time. When these two spar in scenes grounded by realism, Hoffman's relatable, witty dialogue sings -- but that confluence rarely occurs.
Annie Potts, Bebe Neuwirth and Priscilla Lopez -- actors with stinging, practiced comic timing -- are unfortunately underused. Neuwirth speaks about three lines total. Hoffman ditches them to focus on Nate's love interest Allison, played by musician Ingrid Michaelson. Michaelson does her best impression of a soured recovering addict on house arrest, but opposite these powerhouses, she nearly disappears into the scenery. If you must shoehorn a love story into your comedy, please cast a comic actress.