The Reel Review
Billy Crystal co-writes, directs and stars in this dramedy about an aging comedy writer on a Saturday Night Live-type TV show who forms an unlikely friendship with a New York City street singer (Tiffany Haddish) as he navigates early onset dementia. It is inspired by co-writer Alan Zweibel’s semi-autobiographical short story, The Prize.
Injecting comedy into a drama about dementia is no easy task, and despite Crystal’s well-intended efforts, Here Today never quite gels. It is an old fashioned relationship movie, chocked full of sweet but really corny grandpa jokes, a super schmaltzy jazz trumpet score, and some painfully bad singing from Haddish. (Couldn’t Crystal have made her character a standup comedian?) But as mildly pleasant as it all is, the film is the equivalent of being trapped in an elevator listening to a really nice old person talk about their physical ailments for two hours.
Crystal and Haddish have an easy onscreen chemistry, with Haddish smartly toning down her larger-than-life persona to lend the story at least some believability. That Crystal’s Charlie is avoiding family members out of embarrassment about his dementia is a stretch. The comedy vacillates from mild chuckles to cringeworthy, with cameos from Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, director Barry Levinson and violinist Itzhak Perlman. The flashbacks to Charlie’s earlier years with his beautiful wife, very well played by Louisa Krause (Dark Waters, Ava’s Possessions), gives the film a bit more emotional heft. Here Today is a sweet story with a few touching moments about living in the present and cherishing life’s meaningful relationships. But sadly, like Charlie’s memory, Here Today will be quickly forgotten tomorrow.
• During filming of Here Today, Crystal and Haddish became close friends, with Crystal helping her with her bat mitzvah.
• Here Today is Billy Crystal’s first directorial film since the Roger Maris/Mickey Mantle baseball film 61, which Crystal directed in 2001.
• Alan Zweibel is one of the original writers of Saturday Night Live, hired by Lorne Michaels after Zweibel showed him his portfolio of 1100 jokes he’d written for stand-up comedians. Zweibel has won five Emmys (Saturday Night Live, It’s Garry Handling’s Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and was executive producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary Love, Gilda.