Here Today Synopsis: When veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz (Billy Crystal) meets New York singer Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish), they form an unlikely yet touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust.
Teaming a comedic icon with one of Hollywood’s brightest new voices, Here Today presents an interesting walk through memory lane for writer, director, and star Billy Crystal. It may not be in the exact vein of his 90’s rom-com staples like When Harry Met Sally and Forget Paris, but Crystal and co-star Tiffany Haddish embrace the era’s feel-good nature in a story of friendship amidst life-altering changes.
Based on a short story about Crystal’s former SNL colleague Herb Sargent, the beloved funnyman imbues heart and soul into his long-awaited return to the director’s chair. Even when framed as an admirable passion project, Here Today’s overstuffed plotting and maudlin emotionality never rise above Hallmark-level pleasantness.
Part buddy comedy, part dementia drama, mixed alongside shadings of workplace milieu, and finally topped with a heaping of familiar drama, Crystal and co-writer Alan Zweibel bite off far more than they can chew. The medley of narrative threads collides in an awkward tonal mishmash of conceits, dancing between plot beats without cohesive direction. Plenty of films have found insightful ways of balancing life’s painful tribulations with much-needed humor, but Crystal’s sappy direction choices create a bizarre, Frankenstein-esque melding of tonality. An over-reliance on tired score choices and a lack of narrative flow keep Crystal’s film from ever finding a succicent voice onscreen.
Here Today has a lot to say without saying much of it very well. As a comedy, Crystal and Zweibel’s low-key playfulness is often subbed out for grand comedic plot beats that fall flat on their face (a certain scene where Charlie takes the stage lands with a nasty mean streak despite the intended laughs). Audiences will get the occasional chuckle out of Crystal and Haddish’s distinct personas, yet neither actor is given anything particularly sharp to say (most the best gags feel improvisational).
If the comedic aspects are a mixed bag, the dramatic elements are a borderline disaster. Crystal’s handling of Charlie is far too sentimental and clean, excusing most of the character’s previous poor actions under the guise of an evolution that doesn’t really show on the screen (the familiar drama, featuring Penn Badgley and Laura Benanti, feels laughably simplistic and melodramatic). While it’s refreshing to see Haddish in a somewhat subdued role, even her character feels like a false amalgam of dated movie cliches (the “manic pixie dream girl” trope in particular). Her character only exists to service the whims of Charlie’s ailing problems, lacking the dimension or agency to have her own meaningful place in the narrative. It all builds to a finale that swings for teary-eyed emotions yet whiffs with cloying results.
Here Today doesn’t work despite its admirable intentions. Crystal and Haddish share an agreeable-enough rapport, but the film surrounding them constantly stumbles over its good intentions.