Something like Billy Crystal's "Here Today" feels like a film that's from an entirely different era. It's the sort of story which could've starred Crystal years ago, with someone like Jerry Lewis to act against. Instead, we have Crystal as an aging comedy writer paired with Tiffany Haddish as a street singer who forms an unexpected friendship. In other words, that premise alone should tell you the type of story we're given here. However, there's plenty to forgive, thanks to our two lead performances. What "Here Today" has going for it is two very capable actors making the most of material that never lives up to their towering status. The real problem on display here is just how hard the cliches of the story are leaned into.
Written and directed by Crystal, there's a feeling that the script was at the bottom of the priority list. His character of Charlie Burnz is someone forced to deal with the rather serious illness of dementia. The screenplay leans into so many cliches of the "sick person movie" early on that it never knows how to rise above them. It's quite frustrating when you have such an interesting pair between Haddish and Crystal. Clocking in at almost two hours long, we get several great moments of them talking. When they're simply sitting together or walking and talking, the comedy is electric. These are two of the funniest people in the industry today, and when they're given a chance, they can be hysterical in this film. It's simply unfortunate that they're only allowed humor is in sporadic moments.
As a writer and director, Crystal can never decide on the sort of story he wants to tell audiences. Because of this, we get rather broad moments of comedy, such as Tiffany Haddish's character Emma having an allergic reaction to crab. When the focus then shifts to more quiet moments of Emma and Charlie discussing his illness, it becomes much more moving and meaningful. There's a balance trying to be accomplished here that just never lands in the way that's intended.
When Crystal and Haddish are given the time to either improvise a scene or simply talk about things, it's electric. The problem is when we have to give these characters some motivation to move the plot along. From the "old-love," "illness" and "love-struck boyfriend," none of it is original. It seems like the characters go through the motions of what needs to happen in this sort of story. There's a real sense that the film is plodding through motions to a resolution whose purpose is to please us. It's just a rather unfortunate and minute detail that never quite earns its payoff. The thing that's just so incredibly difficult to deny is just how simple of a film "Here Today" ends up being.
"Here Today" is by no means a downright bad film, but one that is simply going through the motions. This makes what could've been a thoroughly dramatic piece nothing more than a "cute" watch. It's hard to deny just how much fun it is to watch Crystal and Haddish play off of one another. Their chemistry is so sharp and effective that I just wish it was in the hands of a script that wasn't this manipulative. By the time the credits rolled, you could almost feel the "audience, you're supposed to cry!" card playing. It's hard to deny that what we ended up with was engaging for one watch, but the end result is nothing more than an empty sum of its parts.
Watch Trailer Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3v8n_8-QqA