'Here Today' will likely be gone tomorrow
Billy Crystal's dementia dramedy is a forgettable mess
Billy Crystal has had the sort of career in show business where he can now choose whether or not to work. He can also choose his projects, and he pretty much has the clout to get them made if he wants.
So more than 20 years after the Manhattan-born and Bronx-raised Crystal last sat in the director's chair for "*61," the story of the New York Yankees Roger Maris’ then record-setting home run season, he has chosen to return with another passion project called “Here Today.”
“Here Today” seems like a return to Crystal’s comedy roots and a tantalizing pairing with another talented and likable comedic presence in Tiffany Haddish, but there’s a pretty great distance between how this film is being marketed and what takes place onscreen.
Crystal — who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Alan Zweibel — stars as Charlie Berns, a veteran comedy writer on a fictional sketch shows that’s an obvious stand-in for “Saturday Night Live.” Makes sense, since Crystal was a cast member and Zweibel an early writer.
Charlie is a legacy talent at the show, the kind who shepherds the young writers. He still works on a typewriter, but his instincts keep him relevant.
In a setup right out of a comedy sketch show, he meets an aspiring singer named Emma Payge (Haddish) when she shows up for a “celebrity” date that was bid upon by her now ex-boyfriend — and not for very much money for charity.
Emma’s ex was a fan of Charlie, but she doesn’t actually know who he is. In a scene that set entirely the wrong the tone for the rest of the movie, she has an allergic reaction to seafood during dinner that leads to an unlikely friendship.
Charlie is also harboring some emotional baggage as he struggles with some past family trauma that is coming to the forefront because, plot twist, Charlie is secretly experiencing stages of dementia.
Yes, as some critics have already pointed out, this is the Billy Crystal dementia comedy for which nobody asked. This criticism isn’t really fair, though, because, despite the solid comedic pairing of its leads, “Here Today” is not the zany comedy you might be expecting. It’s decidedly a “dramedy.”
This is a word that tends to make me cringe because it's such a fine line to navigate, making it rare one of these movies delivers.
Despite some loving and personal touches, Crystal’s version of “dramedy” tends to waver between these opposing poles, violently lurching between comedy and drama to the point that it sometimes feels like two different movies. And it doesn’t really work as either.
The seafood allergy “date” is capped with Haddish sporting a prosthetic swollen face in a moment that would feel at home in the very worst of Adam Sandler movies.
And this takes place within the same movie that lovingly recreates Charlie’s memories of meeting his wife in a first-person camera view, complete with the knowledge that these fading memories are destroying him.
There are great moments in “Here Today” and the two leads have ample chemistry. But, oh my, the tonal shifts and some of the more dramatic moments are cringe.
One thing that does work is the depiction of a platonic friendship between Charlie and Emma, a far cry from Crystal’s “When Harry Met Sally.” But the dementia aspect does not play well with the lighter moments.
“Here Today” will be forgotten about tomorrow.
Now playing in theaters
2 stars out of 5