There is an initial anticipation for Here Today. Its heart is undeniably in the right place, and there are plenty of great ingredients in its recipe. The rightfully beloved Billy Crystal stars, co-writes and directs this feature. He plays Charlie Burnz, an ageing comedy writer who’s the most affable guy in the world. He’s jovial, naturally funny, and is a great mentor, even to those who believe he’s past his sell-by date. But it becomes apparent that Charlie is suffering from some degree of dementia. It hasn’t taken hold yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Luckily, a chance encounter with Tiffany Haddish’s Emma, an exuberant personality with a fun-loving way of looking at the world, may give Charlie more purpose in his life, and a means of reconnecting with his family.
When you strip Here Today down it’s ultimately a tale on appreciating life and forgiving the sins of the past, for you never know when it might all be over. The contrasting personalities of the old and somewhat mellow Charlie, and the young, rambunctious thrill seeker that is Emma certainly help to sell this, especially with the way Crystal and Haddish play off of each other effortlessly. Further selling this is how Charlie interacts with the world and people around him, demonstrating how much he gives, even if he doesn’t realise it. This includes the young writer Darrell (Andrew Durand), who Charlie sees a spark in, or his granddaughter Lindsay (Audrey Hsieh) who loves him to the moon and back. We get a full picture of Charlie’s life and character, allowing us to appreciate the core lessons of the story through this amiable and likeable protagonist.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t that much of a conflict in Here Today. While Charlie’s worsening dementia is omni-present, the film is mostly a series of events, with mini-conflicts within. Tiffany Haddish’s character has a bad ex. He appears in one scene then isn’t seen again. Charlie can’t stand how one comedy writer conducts himself. He ends up having an admittedly very funny outburst about him, but this also seems to conclude this plot point. Even the reason Charlie’s children (Penn Badgley and Laura Benanti) are distant from him feels somewhat mechanical. On top of that, most people in the film are generally pleasant to one another. The very atmosphere of the film borders on whimsical despite its setting in realism. It’s a friendly film for sure, but without a consistent throughline or opposing force to challenge our lead the film feels less of a story and more like an anthology of moments. Had it limited its focus to, say, solely the comedy writing story or the friendship between Emma and Charlie, then we could’ve had something more tightly written.
Furthermore, the way Charlie’s dementia is portrayed leaves something to be desired. In many instances Charlie talks of having flashbacks, both lovely and guilt-ridden, namely to his memories of his wife Carrie (Louisa Krause). Crystal chooses to frame these flashbacks with close-ups, with the people Charlie is remembering speaking straight into the camera, often with a melancholic score playing in the background. Although it may be Charlie’s perspective, but it’s quite a jarring choice that may distract audiences to the fact that this is a film rather than an immersive story. It adds to the melodramatic feel to an otherwise well-meaning film, while framing Charlie’s dementia as more of a means to serve the plot than a fundamental character trait.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good things about Here Today. The comedy, while hit-and-miss, really lands when it finds its mark. The themes, while overdone and obvious, are still heart-warming. And Billy Crystal really does shine in his role. From When Harry Met Sally to Monsters Inc, the guy is a living legend, and this may be one of his best performances. He brings both charisma and vulnerability to Charlie, creating a layered piece of acting that elevates the character. In a better film, this would probably be getting recognised for award season.
But sadly, Here Today feels more like a design for the lachrymose. It’s got plenty of good moments and aspects that, had they been properly prioritised, could’ve made decent films on their own. Yet there is an inherently manufactured feel to it all, even during the select moments of legitimately effective drama. However, its execution is mushy at best and overstuffed at worst. It’s quite the schmaltzy experience, which is a pity because there is some genuine emotion scattered about.
Here Today hits cinemas on 3rd September.
Director: Billy Crystal; Alan Zweibel (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti, Laura Krause
Runtime: 108 minutes