Billy Crystal writes, directs, produces and stars in Here Today. The character seems based on him, an aging comedy writer, who has lived through fame and success, and now is enjoying a more settled and obscure time in his twilight years. Which is not say he’s idle, he’s vital and enthusiastic and still chipping in in the writers’ room of a SNL-style show. In fact, it is his undimming lust for life that is what makes it so hard for him to accept his diagnosis of dementia.
There’s been a lot of dementia films lately, The Father, Supernova and now this. Don’t know why.
Anyway, Crystal’s character, Charlie Burns, has a quirky meet-cute with Tiffany Haddish’s Emma, a manic pixie dream nurse. She is this larger-than-life character, singing in a swing band on the streets of New York, dressing in retro vintage fashion, and wolfing down any food she finds. As a young woman at the beginning of her story, Charlie is enthralled with how alive she is. Emma, on the other hand, is endeared by Charlie’s kindness, and enjoys hearing Charlie’s stories about a New York from another time. As she sits in his livingroom, beautiful violin music drifts through the window, and Charlie explains Itzhak Perlman lives opposite and practices in the evenings. She has no idea who that is, but encourages his to get up and dance. That’s their complementary dynamic.
In the Q&A afterwards, Crystal said he wanted Here Today to refute the proposition put forward in When Harry Met Sally, that men and women cannot be friends, sex will always get in the way. Here Today is about falling in friendship.
This is an incredibly sweet and warm movie (straying into saccharine at times, especially towards the end) but it dances over a lot of problematic notions baked into the premise. Ultimately, Emma cancels going on tour with her band to look after Charlie as his live-in caregiver in the prognosed last year of his life. Which is a happy ending for the rich, white man who now employs(?) her. But Emma’s happy ending is to, uh, bask in his company? Like, this black woman’s happy ending is to provide round-the-clock medical and emotional care for this white dude. It kinda papers over a lot of unquestioned notions.
Plus, Emma isn’t shown as having much life beyond Charlie’s time with her. It’s established her family are all in another state, and she has an ex-boyfriend, but you never really see her living her life outwith Charlie, so it kinda lessens any impact of what she’s sacrificing to stay and look after him. Because as far as the film’s concerned, what else is she gonna do? When she can be helping heal this dude’s relationship with his family, and make him feel better?
So yeah, there’s a lot one-sidedness to the story, and it’s not, like, super funny, but it does kinda glow with a good-natured humour and a pleasantness that’s sort of classic to Billy Crystal films that I just miss, and enjoy seeing. A nice movie.