Here Today (2021)
Director: Billy Crystal
Screenwriter: Billy Crystal, Alan Zweibel
Starring: Billy Crystal, Tiffany Haddish
Billy Crystal, the acclaimed and beloved actor best known for his turn as Mike Wazowski in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and for his role in Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally, marks his second turn behind the camera as director of Here Today (2021), his first since 1992’s Mr. Saturday Night.
Here Today follows Crystal as Charlie Burnz, a veteran comedy writer who forms an unlikely friendship with Tiffany Haddish’s Emma Payge, a New York lounge singer. The pair meet after Emma attends lunch with Burnz, an opportunity which arose due to Emma’s ex-boyfriend winning an auction for lunch with the respected creative. At the lunch, Emma has a bad reaction to some seafood, causing a situation to ensue in which Emma ends up in hospital and Charlie has to stab her in the bottom with an EpiPen. The scene sets up the characters and their relationship, but it also works as a showcase of the worst aspects of this long-awaited sophomore feature: overly expositional dialogue, bad joke delivery, and terrible situational comedy.
Thankfully, for fans of co-writer, director and co-star Billy Crystal, the above eye-rolling sequence is by far the worst part of this film, and it mercifully occurs only 10 minutes or so into the movie’s runtime. Should you survive the scare, the quality of Here Today speaks for itself, improving with every passing minute – the issues may remain but they become less and less of a factor.
The standout element of Here Today is the screenplay. Opening with painfully unfunny moments, it seems to be a hard sell at first, but produces more mature comedy as the film goes on. This is not a laugh-out-loud comedy by any means, but Here Today offers enough to force light chuckles throughout. Perhaps even more importantly, Crystal is able to tie things up in a final act that feels like just the right fit for what has come before, sending you back into the sunlight feeling happy and fulfilled.
Of testament to the screenplay, but also to the terrific performances from the ever-reliable talents of Billy Crystal and the emerging Tiffany Haddish, the greatest aspect of this 2021 release is the bond formed between the two characters. There may be attention paid to the past traumas of one of the leads – presented here with a distinct style separate from the rest of the picture – and it certainly diverts attention away from the two central protagonists, but the on-screen chemistry of the leading duo proves more than enough reason to stick with the story being told.
Here Today is far from the best film ever made, and at times it lacks the creativity or instincts of some of the best comedies of recent years, but its positives do eventually outweigh its negatives. This won’t be a film for everyone, and its imperfections will take some getting used to, but for those willing to invest in Crystal and Haddish (as their careers have so far earned), there’s potential for this film to be perfect Sunday afternoon viewing; a rom-com that doesn’t challenge you, attempt to inform you, or preach to you, but simply invites you into another relateable universe not too unlike your own for just a few hours of your day.