Here Today

Here Today

2021, PG-13, 117 min. Directed by Billy Crystal. Starring Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Laura Benanti, Penn Badgley, Kevin Kline, Barry Levinson, Sharon Stone.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 7, 2021

Charlie Berns is facing the big d. Not death, because that's something no one can avoid eventually, and he's already lost his beloved wife, Carrie. No, this d is for dementia, and he's lucky because he can actually remember the word.

We are creatures of memory, and that's where Charlie has lived for so long, in a sort of stasis after becoming a widower. He's still a father and grandfather, and he's got his job as the grand old man of a Saturday Night Live-esque sketch show. That's how, by wild accident, he meets Emma (Haddish), a bluesy singer with the same kind of fast-thinking fearlessness that he still sees in himself. They don't become lovers (as noted in a few gloriously awkward sequences in which the nature of their relationship is scrutinized) but rather best of best of best friends.

It's a surprisingly perfect comedy pairing, peaking in a glorious sequence with Crystal and Haddish riffing their way through Madame Tussaud's in Times Square. It feels improvised, but that's not just because they're effortlessly funny together. It's because Crystal co-wrote with Alan Zweibel, an original SNL jokesmith and a sensitive chronicler of the comedy world. Here Today feels like a seamless continuation of themes from two strands of his work. On one side, there are Broadway successes like Crystal's autobiographical 700 Sundays and Martin Short's deliberately anti-autobiographical Fame Becomes Me, both kind-hearted looks at what it is to be professionally and personally funny. On the other is Bunny, Bunny, Zweibel's own memoir about his platonic love affair with Gilda Radner, and the emotional weight of her death. He's handled the slow pain of a crippling, inescapable disease before, so while Charlie's dementia isn't the only thing, it's a constant thing. It hangs over Charlie's mentorship of nervous new writer Darrell (Durand), his complicated relationship with his kids, and his deepening bond with Emma.

This isn't the white-knuckle psychological horror of The Father, but it is terrifying, and writers especially will feel the sting. The raw trauma of losing your words is magnified because Charlie has already lost the core of who he was, and soon he will lose the memory of his core, the memory of Carrie. It's almost like Crystal is revisiting his directorial debut, 1992's showbiz memories dramedy Mr. Saturday Night, with a new and deeper understanding of what it is to grow old. He captures Charlie at this perilous, tragic point, when he knows what's wrong with him and that it's only going to get worse, and that his coping mechanisms so far will fail. That's where Haddish's amazingly compassionate performance matches everything the old master does, taking what could have been a broad, crass character on the page and turning Emma into Charlie's lifeline: not a caregiver, a partner. It's inevitably a bittersweet story, but the sweetness makes this a honey of a movie.

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Here Today, Billy Crystal, Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish, Laura Benanti, Penn Badgley, Kevin Kline, Barry Levinson, Sharon Stone

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