Here Today, a bittersweet comedy starring Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish, is one of the best pictures this year when all is said and done.
Comedy veteran Billy Crystal is a true triple-threat in front and behind the camera. Crystal directs, co-writes the script with legendary comedy writer Alan Zweibel, and delivers one of his best performances on screen. He truly outdoes his performance in last year’s Standing Up, Falling Down. There’s something about playing a comedian or writer but Crystal is just absolute perfection in the role. I cannot say this enough but when Crystal and Zweibel team up, their work is genius. Here Today is no exception. And it’s all because of what happened when Zweibel himself was the prize of a silent auction. How things go down during the lunch scene is more or less how it played out in real life. The comedy only writes itself! Okay, so Crystal also draws on real-life experiences with a cousin, too.
Charlie Burnz (Billy Crystal) is a comedy writing legend modeled after original Saturday Night Live writer Herb Sargent. He’s a senior writer for a cable sketch comedy show, This Just In. Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish), a local street musician, wins a prize to have lunch with him. Lunch is anything but good! Regardless, the two manage to strike up a relationship. After the hospital fiasco, that is. There’s a 32 year age difference between the two in real life but as you get to know Charlie and Emma, you seemingly happen to ignore the gap. What matters is that the two of them care about each other. Charlie brings Emma to granddaughter Lindsay’s bat mitzvah and she steals the show with a roaring rendition of Janis Joplin.
Because of a previous event that still haunts him, Charlie is not so close with his adult children, Rex (Penn Badgley) and Francine (Laura Benanti). Every now and then, we’ll see flashbacks with Charlie’s late wife, Carrie (Louisa Krause). One of which takes place during a humorous scene at the American Museum of Natural History. This is where the film can veer towards the dramatic side of things but Crystal and Zweibel always find a way back to the right mix of comedy and drama.
There’s a point in the film that reminds me of the point in Network where Howard Beale explodes on camera. It’s a completely different scenario that causes Charlie Burnz to reach his breaking point. Nobody could blame him but one can only wonder if his health issues played a part in the outburst.
While I cannot say enough good things about Billy Crystal, I love what Tiffany Haddish brings to the film. Together, they make a true odd couple. What sets this film apart from so many other films is that their relationship is all about friendship rather than romance. This is what makes this film feel so different. Of course, you’d never think so going into the film with their being from different generations. And again, watching their on-screen chemistry makes you forget about the age gap. In terms of comedy, Haddish mostly scales it back. She never really goes over the top in the film–unless you count their initial encounter.
I’m going to warn you right now. This film deals with memory loss. If you have family members or loved ones suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or another form of memory loss, this film will most likely hit close to home. MY own grandmother suffered from memory loss and I saw first-hand how it impacted her. They deal with the subject in such a heartfelt way. Yes, the film is a comedy but the filmmakers are respectful and do not play his memory issues for laughs. At times, like when the American Film Society hosts the Call Me Anytime reunion, you get a sense of something being up in how the camera frames Charlie’s character. Also, can we please use CGI to make the fictional Barry Levinson film happen?!?
This film has been on my radar since reading Alan Zweibel’s memoir last April. I had some hope that it would have premiered during the fall festival circuit. Honestly, a virtual film festival just would not have done the film justice. Not with how many times I laughed and cried! It’s asking for the shared communal experience. While I watched the film via a press screener, I want to make a point of laughing, crying, and seeing the sweeping cinematography on the big screen!
Here Today is one of the best pictures this year.
DIRECTOR: Billy Crystal
SCREENWRITERS: Billy Crystal & Alan Zweibel
CAST: Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti, Louisa Krause, Anna Deavere Smith, Matthew Broussard, Alex Brightman