Following a slew of dementia filled movies in 2020, including Anthony Hopkins Oscar win in “The Father”, Viggo Mortensen’s “Falling” and Stanley Tucci in “Supernova”. Screen favorite Billy Crystal returns to the big screen as writer, producer, director and star in the adaptation of co-writer Alan Zweibel’s short story “The Prize”. In his first film behind the camera since HBO’s “61” from 2001. His new film “Here Today”, is a mix of lighthearted comedy and drama about an unlikely friendship, but also of an aging comedy writer who is fighting a losing battle with ongoing dementia.
Crystal plays Charlie who is working as a senior writer and consultant on a “Saturday Night Live” style show. His mind for comedy remains sharp and active, but he has to walk the exact same route to work every day and he has to write the names of his family members next to their photos in his apartment. This is all because he’s been losing his memory and is having more frequent “episodes” each day.
“Girls Trip” star Tiffany Haddish is the brassy, funny and warmhearted Emma Payge. Emma’s boyfriend worshipped Charlie’s skills as a writer and bid on lunch with Charlie at a charity auction, but when Emma broke up him. She decided to take the lunch, even though she had no idea who Charlie is. They strike up an unlikely friendship and Emma is exactly what Charlie needs as he fights an ongoing battle with dementia.
Billy Crystal couldn’t have found anyone more suited than himself to play the acclaimed veteran comedy writer, who has won Emmy awards, Tonys awards and has penned major hit film comedies. In one scene we get to witness one of his films during an onstage reunion celebrating the anniversary of his film. The scene comes with an appearance by director Barry Levinson and actors Sharon Stone and Kevin Kline, who all play themselves.
“Here Today” plays to Crystal’s strengths of being a Hollywood nice guy that delivers one-liner bits of comedy and filling the in betweens with emotionally poignant moments even if it occasionally feels too melodrama, especially towards the films end. Crystal wrote the script with former “Saturday Night Live” writer Alan Zweibel, who also co-wrote the infamous Rob Reiner film “North”. The film based on his own book that led to Roger Ebert’s legendary review of the famed critic who said: “I hated hated hated hated hated this movie”. While “Here Today” is nowhere near as bad as that, I do wish Crystal had sharpened his script a bit more to avoid the sitcom feel and give the comedy a tad more edge.
Crystal and Zweibel largely avoid the pitfalls of making a movie about friends of different races between Crystal and Haddish. They also smartly avoid making them a romantic couple, as they are not there to teach each other important life lessons or help each other overcome obstacles. They are just good people who get along well and become unexpected friends that are there for one another.
The onscreen chemistry between Crystal and Haddish reflects their real life friendship and it is clear to see that they get a kick out of each other, which is why Crystal was reluctant to cut any of their scenes. Not only does “Here Today” feel a bit like the work of Woody Allen just minus the worry sharp dialogue. But Haddish’s Emma is also the kind of scene stealing co-starring role that Woody Allen used to regularly put into his screenplays.
Unlike Allen’s writing Haddish’s Emma is thinly drawn and doesn’t get much development. Allen would use these side characters to great comedic effect but also with a cringe worthy moment or two, which also happens here (example the two scenes of Haddish getting descriptive of how she would destroy Crystal if they were to have sex).
“Here Today” moves along at a brisk pace at two hours long, but it still should have been cut by a half an hour. A lot of time is spent on Charlie’s guilt, while his condition worsens and time is running out for him to reconcile with his grown children. Shown through a mix of exhaustive flashbacks, his son Rex (Penn Badgley) and daughter Francine (Laura Benanti), both still blame Charlie for the circumstances that led to the tragic death of their mother.
Billy Crystal performs his role with the charm and wit that we’ve always loved from him and he absolutely hasn’t lost a step. If you love Billy Crystal you’ll love him in this movie. He reminds you of why he became such a funny and winning actor. “Here Today” has it’s problems, but it’s still worth your time. However all I could think of after the movie was over and what overshadows the movie the most, is the fact that it’s such a great feeling to see Billy Crystal as a lead actor again.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)