Laughs and heart fill the joyous dramedy Here Today
Two decades after helming the award-winning 61*, comedy legend Billy Crystal returns to the director's chair in Here Today from Stage 6 Films. In addition to directing and starring in the film, Crystal co-wrote the screenplay with his longtime friend Alan Zweibel, which adapts the latter's short story, The Prize.
Crystal portrays veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz who has hit show television sketch show titled "This Just In." While Charlie has a hit show and the regards of a legend, he has a rocky relationship with his grown kids Rex (Penn Badgley) and Francine (Laura Benanti). Charlie is also showing early signs of dementia, which he is keeping a secret from everyone close to him.
One day Charlie has to attend lunch with Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish), the unlikely recipient of a prize, to have lunch with the comedy legend. You see, Emma's ex-boyfriend won the prize, but as payback for his cheating, Emma goes to the lunch, despite not knowing who Charlie is or any of his work. After some small talk over lunch, Emma finds herself in a comedy of errors involving a seafood allergy, a hospital visit, and an epi-pen.
This event leads to an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship between Emma and Charlie, where they forge a deep bond that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of friendship, love, and trust.
I briefly remember hearing about Here Today in 2019 when it was announced that Crystal and Haddish were collaborating on a project. However, as with most films, COVID affected the release date. When I finally saw the trailer last month, my interest was piqued as a fan of Crystal and Haddish.
Crystal had played a writer before in the films Throw Momma from the Train and Mr. Saturday Night, so the role came naturally to him. I was particularly fond of the scenes where Crystal interacts with the writer's room as they highlight all of the behind-the-scenes action of "This Just In. Not to be left out are Crystal's mentoring scenes with a new young writer on the show Darrell (Andrew Durand), who has the gift but has not entirely, found his way.
Tiffany Haddish continues to highlight her talents outside of stand-up by avoiding typecasting.
Here Today gives Haddish a chance to display her singing talents, as her character of Emma is a singer. Now do not get it twisted, Haddish does not need to do an album or anything like that, but she can carry a tune. What I was most fond of in Emma's characterization was the avoidance of stereotypes. There is never a moment where Emma attempts to turn Charlie on to Hip Hop, introduce him to soul food, etc. Instead, she is a well-rounded woman with a positive outlook on life where race is not an issue. If comedians Ali Wong or Whitney Cummings were in the role of Emma, you would have the same finished project.
The interactions between Crystal and Haddish are the heart of the film, particularly when they visit Madame Tussauds, which I am almost positive, was improv, given the genuine smiles on the face of the faces of the comedians. Kudos to Crystal's direction as he handles Charlie's dementia in small spurts before finally hitting the issue head-on in the film's third act. Initially, I had an issue with the characterization of Rex and Francine, as the characters served no purpose. However, the script slowly reveals what led to the rocky relationship between Charlie and his kids, and when the credits rolled, it made sense.
Here Today may not win awards and will more than likely be forgotten, but I cannot deny how much I enjoyed the film. I laughed, and when I was a bit misty-eyed when the credits rolled, the emotions were earned and not forced. That said, I do highly recommend Here Today if you are in the mood for a dramedy.
Final Grade: B+