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"HERE TODAY"
(2021) (Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A veteran comedy writer must contend with a past tragedy as well as ever-increasing dementia, all while striking up a friendship with a much younger singer.
PLOT:

Charlie Burnz (BILLY CRYSTAL) is a famous and award-winning comedy writer who currently serves as the senior writer on the TV sketch show "This Just In" where he's helping mentor a struggling young staff writer, Darrell Green (ANDREW DURAND).

Unbeknownst to Charlie's adult children, architect Rex (PENN BADGLEY) and teacher Francine (LAURA BENANTI), he's suffering the early effects of dementia that so far mostly haven't affected his work, but do mean he must follow routine directions to make his way to work. But what does occasionally affect him are flashbacks to a past tragedy involving his late wife, Carrie (LOUISA KRAUSE), which Francine still blames him for, something her teenage daughter, Lindsay (AUDREY HSIEH), is unaware of.

Through an auction bid for lunch with him, Charlie ends up meeting singer Emma Payge (TIFFANY HADDISH), although she doesn't know who he is as it was her ex-boyfriend who originally won that lunch date. During that, Emma ends up with an allergic reaction to shellfish and Charlie ends up footing her medical bills, with her promising to pay him back. As she does so on the installment plan, the two end up occasionally meeting and getting to know each other better, albeit platonically, eventually forming a close friendship.

With her promising to take care of him as his memory fades, he must not only contend with that, but also his efforts to write about his late wife, the related flashbacks to the fateful night of her untimely death, and the effects all of that still has on his adult children.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

Considering that dementia in its various forms is becoming a public health issue -- according to the World Health Organization around 10 million people each year are diagnosed with it and it's estimated that by the year 2030 82 million will suffer from that with the number rising to 152 million in 2050 -- it's no surprise that the frequency of that topic has also increased in works of fiction.

So many that I can't remember all of them, or at least that's the story I'm telling myself, what with dealing with increased memory lapses as I get older. With that figuratively and perhaps literally in the back of my head, I watch such films with a certain self-awareness and that once again was the case while viewing "Here Today."

It's the tale of a comedy writer (Billy Crystal, certainly not stretching in the role) who we first meet as he's following a set of step-by-step directions in his head to ensure that he gets to work as the veteran scribe on a live TV comedy sketch show called "This Just In."

The other pivotal element of this tale that Crystal co-wrote with Alan Zweibel (who's adapting his short story "The Prize") is also revealed right away -- but not in complete detail as that will be dripped to us over the course of the film's nearly two-hour runtime) -- when he arrives at work.

The elevator door opens, and he's suddenly face to face with a police officer asking if he's Charlies Burnz, at night, with flashing police lights indicating something bad has happened. We then realize this is a hallucination or PTSD style flashback that will later be explained, including as related to his adult children, Rex (Penn Badgley) and Francine (Laura Benanti), who are unaware of his memory issues.

The person who does come to recognize those is Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish), a singer who just for the heck of it takes her ex-boyfriend's winning auction prize and has lunch with Charlie. When a seafood allergy sends her to the hospital with Charlie footing the bill, she promises to pay him back, albeit in a sort of installment plan that means repeated pairings of the two.

The result is a sweet and somewhat old-fashioned film (notwithstanding brief moments of sexual humor) that plays to Crystal's strengths of being a nice guy who delivers humorous one-liner bits of comedy dialogue, and there are some nice emotionally poignant moments thrown in for good measure. Likewise, the platonic chemistry between his and Haddish's character is nicely portrayed, mixing humor and warm, fuzzy feelings of a seemingly unlikely friendship.

All of that said, Crystal as the director occasionally allows things to lose a bit of focus as well as teeter on and occasionally fall over to the side of melodrama and somewhat maudlin sentiment -- especially toward the end -- but not enough to derail the offering. Except, I imagine, for certain cynical critics who might think this isn't edgy enough or who have yet to reach the age where they see part of themselves in the lead character and his plight.

Perhaps that's why the flick worked for me at this point in my life. If you're there too, it might for you as well. Not perfect and maybe forgettable in the long run, "Here Today" is entertaining in the moment and thus rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 4, 2021 / Posted May 7, 2021


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