If you're like me, you consider yourself a big fan of Billy Crystal. I seriously root for him, and whenever he appears in a movie he is always a sight for sore eyes...he's the "comfort food" of comedy, where you can just sink back and relax into his quick-witted sense of humor and uniquely-nasally voice, knowing that at any minute, he has the capability of making you smile even when he - on occasion - isn't making you laugh.
The clunky, overly-sappy "Here Today" is, sadly, one of those occasions. It's co-written and directed by Crystal himself, his first directorial effort since the HBO baseball movie, "61*," twenty years ago. Crystal is coming off of his best performance since his iconic role in the 1989 classic, "When Harry Met Sally," in last year's mostly unseen and unnoticed "Standing Up, Falling Down." In that film, Crystal was warm, touching and funny, but he also showed off his dramatic chops as an alcoholic dermatologist, fully embracing the fact that, at age 73, there's more road behind him then in front of him.
"Here Today" takes a deeper dive into themes like this: Mortality, aging, family relationships, friendship and legacies left behind. Crystal is no question one of the greats of his generation, but this misfire will definitely not rank as a film worth remembering.
In "Here Today," Crystal plays Charlie Berns, an aging comedy writer of film and TV who currently is the dinosaur in the writing room on a hit sketch comedy show. He meets Emma (Tiffany Haddish), a street performer and singer, in a way that is so incredibly implausible, that it may make you want to abandon the movie after it's first 20 minutes. The set-up, though, is NOT what the movie is about and it does not go down the path the audience might expect. Maybe it should have. Instead, it becomes a story about a man battling dementia, who is grappling with his life's work disappearing, not just from his mind, but from the hot, young writers who are now sucking up all the air in the writer's room.
Clearly Crystal is commenting on his own life and career. And had the movie leaned in more to the writer's room/career stuff, I think it might have had a chance of not only becoming a funnier film, but a more meaningful one as well. The show-runner is a Brad (Max Gordon Moore), a guy who idolizes Charlie and all he's given to the show over the years, whereas a young up-and-coming comic who can't seem to give any English word the proper inflection (Matthew Broussard), is trying to push Charlie out. There is comedic potential in this dynamic, and in one scene where Brad stands up for Charlie, there is more heart than in the rest of the entire film.
But "Here Today" regrettably, only uses Charlie's occupation as a backdrop to express how he is becoming less and less useful. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between Haddish and Crystal, and in their scenes together, rarely have either of them been less funny. They also don't have any sort of on-screen chemistry, which is why it is baffling that they become entangled romantically, despite the whopping age difference. Worse, the movie slowly becomes about Charlie's relationship with his children, his well-meaning son (Penn Badgley) and his cold-hearted daughter, Francine (Laura Benanti, in a hammy, over-the-top performance that is so cringe-worthy, that it can't possibly be her fault...blame the flimsy script instead), and the guilt that Charlie has over his late wife (played in flashback sequences by Louisa Krause).
This is admittedly a hard film to market, and "Here Today" is being promoted as a comedy, as it should be, in that it stars Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish. But it's only funny in spurts, with most of the jokes feeling old and plucked from lesser comedies from the 1980s. It ends up being much more of a drama, but the characters are all so thinly created that it is impossible to invest in them. Crystal's inherent likability is the only thing that even makes the film watchable, because otherwise, it actually might have been worse.
I applaud the story that Crystal was trying to tell, but "Here Today" just feels misguided...a disjointed and mostly unfunny movie that most of us would be wise to just forget.
Starring: Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Sharon Stone, Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti, Kevin Kline.
Co-Written and Directed by Billy Crystal ("61*," "Forget Paris," "Mr. Saturday Night").
"Here Today" is available on Friday, May 7th, 2021.
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