Directed By Billy Crystal
Starring – Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Penn Badgley
The Plot – When veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz (Crystal) meets New York street singer Emma Payge (Haddish), they form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust.
Rated PG-13 for strong adult language, and sexual references.
– Lovable leads. As strange as the team-up of Crystal and Haddish are, complete with a polar opposite style of comedic execution, their bond in chemistry is one of the few sentimentally earned aspects throughout the film, allowing us to see each of them in completely different ways in contrast to the measures taken during their prestigious careers. For Haddish, not only does she sing a few of the film’s classic rock soundtrack selections, but she also supplants a gentle blanket to Crystal’s character that effectively illustrates a heartfelt demeanor, solidifying how she is anything but a one-dimensional comedian in the face of typecasting cinema. For Crystal, this is the empathetically dramatic side of his registry that we were initially promised with films like “When Harry Met Sally” or “The Princess Bride”, but only paid off on until recently with this late stage of his respective filmmography. Billy shines with a tenderness and vulnerability that tugs at the heartstrings of the audience, quite often elevating the lukewarm material with a performance that is easily his best of the past decade.
– Deconstructing conventions. Similar to how “Together Together” redefined the concepts of love and obscurred line of soul mates in mainstream cinema, so too does “Here Today”, illustrating the blossoming relationship between Charlie and Emma on the terms of their characters. Without spoiling anything, this isn’t a union based on romance or any kind of physicality, but the script does attain notable measures on how they each become the most important person to each ones lives, all the while growing and maturing their interaction with each passing day throughout the year that the film takes us through. It conjures up a bond that feels uniquely fresh without feeling condensed or shaped by the way the environment surrounding them defines them, and proves that life should be lived with eyes open, so as not to miss the pivotal figures who may or may not be the missing ingredient that we didn’t know we needed all along.
– Unique perspective. While initially interpreted as a cheap means of storytelling to keep the production from spending money on Crystal’s de-aging during flashback sequences, the point-of-view framing of recollection scenes for his character presents a few aspects where this artistically captivates Charlie’s growing disposition. Particularly within the context of a mind suffering from Alzheimer’s, we see the things Charlie sees as ghosts of a past that are unfortunately the one thing he simply can’t forget, reliving each memory with a poignant sentimentality that constantly hang on the conscience of his every decision. In addition, the disjointed nature of the imagery itself periodically overtaking the focus of the film cohesively plays into the frail state as pieces that the protagonist and audience are unable to piece together because of the randomness of their inclusion. It’s an easily immersive tool for storytelling that is used a bit much in the execution, but is effective nonetheless at using production in a way to convey a bigger picture that we weren’t initially privy towards.
– Tonally uneven. In watching the trailer, I accurately interpreted a creative tug of war between sappy melodrama and bountiful comedy that never converge as one cohesive creativity, and to that sentiment I was entirely correct. Not only is the comedy depressingly undercooked for the film, but it fails so miserably that it disappears by the midway point of the film, creating a shift to sap that is every bit heavy-handed as it is obvious between the script’s many movements. In that regard, the dramatic elements for the film are easily detectable from a mile away, and so manipulative when paired with musical composer Charlie Rosen’s meandering compositions that feel quite literally lifted from a Hallmark TV movie. It creates several jaded dispositions that left me struggling to properly define when the film reached for humor, or when it reached for sadness, and points to a barrage of problems with Alan Zweibel’s scripts that have created such monumental tonal blunders like “The Story of Us”, “Dragnet”, and the one movie that even as a kid I knew was total garbage; “North”.
– Hindered speed bumps. There are many throughout this intentionally padded screenplay that lessen the impact of the story of Crystal and Haddish in the foreground, and articulate a shameless self-indulgence that Crystal still hasn’t escaped from even at the age of 73. There is a TV show that Charlie writes for that bares more than a striking resemblance to Saturday Night Live, feeling like an autobiographical opportunity for Crystal to right the wrongs committed by his one and done year on the show in real life. In including this aspect, the film commits the cardinal rule in its articulation of writing comedy behind the scenes, in that not only is it not funny, but there’s nothing even remotely interesting about its sudden arrival. In addition to this, we halt progress once more for a Q&A for a movie that Charlie wrote in his younger years, which allow Crystal to call in his A-list friends like Sharon Stone and Kevin Kline, and allow them to make an appearance on-stage during the event, yet never offering them a line of dialogue to justify their existence. It’s unnecessary self-pandering that I honestly would’ve completely removed from the finished product, thus allowing the pacing to attain some measure kinetic energy at around 95 minutes that would’ve been more than enough to candidly tell this story.
– Stilted vision. Casting this story in the big apple is about as predictable as a third act distancing between protagonists, but if you’re going to include such a colorful backdrop, Crystal as a director could at least allow it to permeate as a character of its own within the film. This is where the production feels geared for television instead of the silver screen, because the cinematography feels so condensed and void of symmetrical style, and the establishing shots are virtually non-existent with the exception of the opening moments. This film could’ve easily been set anywhere with none the more meaning in the context of the story. But because it was set in the biggest little city in the world, I have to imagine that Crystal wanted to channel some of that inner city essence and personality that is most notably missing from the finished product, leaving the movie’s aesthetics feeling like a frustratingly missed opportunity that dabbles in the mundane instead of the majestry.
– Elementary dialogue. Perhaps the most frustrating element of the entire film is the obvious lines spoken by the characters that all but spells out everything that the audience is meant to abstractly interpret. This is most evident during those POV sequences that I previously mentioned, where not only is Charlie’s full name repeated several times by the same character within the same conversation, but also delivered in a way that almost feels almost insulting to the intelligence of the character interpreting it. While this is most evident during these occasions scattered throughout the film, the dialogue in the foreground of the unraveling narrative is just as dense. For these times, we are treated to a series of conversations that all have greater meaning at something bigger somewhere down the line, and never zero in on spontaneous throwaway banter that spreads believability in the context of this already hard to believe set-up.
– Ugly marks. While Crystal and Zweibel are wise enough to never engage in the unnecessary obviousness of bi-racial stereotypes that make up the blossoming friendship of the two leads, the lack of characterization for Haddish’s Emma does create some unnecessary stereotypes and evidential problems for the script that unintentionally illustrates an inequality nonetheless. Her lack of backstory, especially those hinted at a troubling relationship and the cusp of poverty that her character is currently on, are hinted at, but never explored in a way that feels like fleshed-out humanity in the boundaries of the character. In addition, Emma’s only purpose in the film is to serve this privileged white man without any kind of benefit to herself. It’s fine for her selflessness, but it does Haddish very little favors in the way of breaking conventional molds, speaking volumes to an underlining problem that is still unfortunately persisting in cinema even when subliminally.
– Flat ending. If you’re going to go over the top with unearned melodrama, you should go the full nine when it gets to the finish line, not retort when it comes to an inevitability that may possibly leave your audience displeased in the film’s final moments. That’s the corner that Zweibel and Crystal write themselves into during the film’s resolution, or lack thereof, leaving things on a somber note that is every bit ambiguously bland as it is frustratingly irrelevant. It isn’t enough that this sequence goes on for the final five minutes of the movie, but what’s even worse is that it repeats everything previously established during the big reveal to characters who are catching up to everything that we the audience have known the whole time. What’s most confusing is that it alludes to a project that Crystal’s Charlie has worked on for the entirety of the film, but then we never get to experience it. It’s never mentioned again. Did he never finish it? What was its relevance to the film’s narrative? Forget it, I don’t need ten more minutes tacked on to an already suffering experience.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-