Here Today

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Tiffany Haddish and Billy Crystal in Here Today
"The central pairing is the beating heart of Crystal's film and he knows it." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

There's a lot going on in the latest directorial outing from Billy Crystal and like the jokes in the sketch show which snakes its way through this story of gaining friendship while losing health - some of it lands but a fair amount doesn't.

The trigger for the tale is a short story by Crystal's long-time friend, Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, The Prize, which recounts an auction-won lunch date that goes badly awry. Dates are not something that come easily to Crystal's character Charlie Burnz, neither hook-ups with women, after he lost his wife years before, or those numbers on a calendar, which like everything in life are beginning to be rendered fuzzy by early dementia.

The winner of the lunch date prize is Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish), who cheerfully informs the "old man" that not only did he raise the princely sum of $22, she has no idea that he's a famous TV sketch writer and only took the date to irritate her ex. One bad reaction to seafood later, however, and a rush to hospital sparks the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

This central pairing is the beating heart of Crystal's film and he knows it. He and Haddish joyfully bounce off one another and make it genuinely believable that these two very different people make a winning combination. Everything else pales in comparison when they're not around, particularly the writers' room schtick, which feels almost like a weak sketch show in itself. Here Charlie is considered old guard, still using his typewriter and trying to mentor a shy newcomer who can't get a skit on air. He's also not exactly in step in his personal life, his relationship with his daughter (Laura Benanti) strained by tragedy, and the one with his son (Penn Badgley) built around tennis dates and the more elaborate manoeuvrings to avoid telling the younger man he is ill.

All these different pieces of the jigsaw, along with first-person POV remembered conversations wife Carrie (Louisa Krause) bang up against each other without fitting snuggly. They may as well be different sketches on a show for all the connection they find with one another. In a way, you sense Crystal doesn't care an enormous amount about these sideshows either, much of it is just throwaway one-liners to keep us occupied while he and Zweibel attempt to craft a grand Chesterfield sofa of sentiment for the older generation around the central pairing of Charlie and Emma, complete with the butterscotch lensing of a Werther Original sweet. Look, they are saying, this is no ordinary sentiment, it's burnished and weathered and hand-stitched from everything you may feel nostalgic for in the modern world. For all that much of the film feels scrappy, you have to admire that sentimental sofa, with its open invitation to cry at the perfect moment, and I daresay a lot of folk will enjoy sinking into it.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2021
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Here Today packshot
Tale of the unlikely friendship that develops between a New York singer and a comedy writer.

Festivals:

EIFF 2021

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