Written, starring, directed and produced by the iconic Billy Crystal, Here Today is a warm-hearted film with all the right intentions. It may not blow the audience out of the water, but you could easily settle in for an easy-to-watch indie comedy-drama, with significant notes about life itself lingering throughout its 117-minute runtime.
Here Today focuses on the life of the veteran comedy-writer Charlie Burnz (Crystal), who meets fellow New Yorker Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish) after she wins the chance to have a meal with him, via a charity auction, and their chemistry is the key to everything good that happens. While her story is that of coming out of an unhealthy relationship, and she’s stolen this moment to meet with her ex-boyfriend’s hero, Charlie’s story is more life threatening, as he’s been diagnosed with a degenerative dementia.
As you’d expect from Crystal, his character is full of one-liners and interesting insight, but with his illness there is a twist, because he hasn’t told his slightly estranged family. So, after meeting Haddish’s Payge, who does have her own things to sort out, she begins to unravel him and try to help him reconnect with his family. Sure, the story isn’t complicated, but Haddish and Crystal are an effortlessly likeable and entertaining pair, from both sides of the age gap, who have naturally funny setups which counterbalance the more serious, tougher moments that inevitably rise with the subject matter in the middle.
Not everything in Here Today works as well as it could, Charlie’s returns to his past by looking at photos and recalling a moment in his life, when this happens, we’re transported with him but only hear his voice, whilst seeing a POV of his wife. These scenes are generally bittersweet but they’re slightly overdone and become a little too voyeuristic, rather than reflective. However, despite these less natural moments, there’s no meanness here (and certainly none on my part), as the ensemble endeavours to tell a sad story full of positive memories, and gradually rekindle a love that seems lost, and that of a family that hasn’t been as close as they want to be.
With Crystal involved, it feels marginally biographical in places, especially when it comes to how comedy works and the essence of that world. We hear statements from his character about having a reason for the joke, which gives us a welcome reminder of the craft and art involved with the greatest comedians, who are a cut above, and I quite liked that side of the message within.
I also adored Tiffany Haddish throughout, she’s wonderful, warm and open – but not short of sharp, direct honesty at the right moments. Her stand-out role alongside Billy means Here Today is their story, and she breaks the usual obviousness we’d get with this style of comedy-drama, as the lead talents keep you connected and eager for some form of optimistic outcome.
Love and trust, laughter and sincerity, family and the future – it’s all here, and in a welcoming, indie way.
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