Review: Billy Crystal neglects the other characters in the well-meaning ‘Here Today’

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Billy Amazingly is always a welcome existence on screen. In his final film, 2019’s “Standing Up, Falling Straight down, ” he or she played a quirky dermatologist helping a comedian get out of a rut. In “Here Today, ” which Crystal wrote and directed (his first feature in 20 years), the tables are usually turned; he stars as being a comedy writer who learns to love life again thanks to an unlikely friendship. The takeoff on the Alan Zweibel short story “The Reward, ” Crystal writes themself a honey of a function that he performs with his unique charm and wit. Yet he seems to have forgotten to publish any of the other roles with all the same depth, which is a darn shame.

Forgetting is the central conceit of “Here Today. ” Steve (Crystal) is a legendary comedy writer grappling with his dementia diagnosis. Though his immediate memory is slipping, Charlie’s past tends to come hurrying back in overwhelming flashbacks, and he initially tries to hide his struggle from his as well as co-workers at a “Saturday Night Live”-like late-night sketch display. Unexpected salvation arrives by means of a wacky subway singer, Emma ( Tiffany Haddish ), exactly who waltzes into his lifestyle over lunch.

This meet-cute, the result of a charity auction, and a following seafood-triggered allergic reaction, makes up the particular totality of the short story. From that strange encounter, Crystal and former “SNL” writer Zweibel (the set also collaborated on the Broadway show “700 Sundays”) extrapolate the dementia, the odd-couple friendship that blossoms between Emma and Charlie and the comedy show, taking Zweibel’s nugget of story and running with it.

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The comedy show, featuring several intentionally ghastly sketches, will be the cleverest subplot, exploring the particular comedy generation gap. Yet it’s not well-integrated into the primary story of Emma and Charlie’s friendship, and the film feels disjointed. Plus, Emma and Charlie’s friendship is so outlandishly fantastical, one may temporarily stop to wonder if Emma is indeed a person, or some kind of apparition who only appears to Steve.

Tiffany Haddish and Billy Crystal in the movie "Here Today."

Tiffany Haddish and Billy Crystal in the movie “Here Today. ”

(Cara Howe/CTMG Inc. )

Emma is a feared combination of stereotypical character tropes. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl by way of the Magical Negro , her character providing only to cheer up Charlie and spur him to work in the memoir. All we know about Emma’s life is that the girl sings in a band called Slippery When Wet, and she has an ex-boyfriend whom she’s dead-set on making envious through her friendship along with Charlie. Her personality is usually “outgoing” and “funny caps, ” but we haven’t a clue as to her background, where she’s through, her hopes, her pain, what makes her so happy in the first place or why the lady even wants to be friends with Charlie. The same applies to every other character in Charlie’s orbit, and that is the film’s fatal flaw.

As a performer, Haddish usually brings a jolt of chaotic energy to mix the proceedings. But here, likely because the character is really underwritten, she feels tight, the fun forced. Emma’s function is merely to support Charlie plus loosen up stuffy white individuals, and the lack of anything genuine for Haddish to riff on is palpable.

It’s hard to choose apart a film that is as well-intentioned as “Here Today, ” which earnestly desires to celebrate life, and every beautiful, tragic, poignant and amazing moment. But for a film that will seeks to be so humanist, there’s only one truly human character in it. As amiable as he is, that oversight is impossible to disregard.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune Information Service film critic.

‘Here Today’

Ranked: PG-13, designed for strong language, and sex references

Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday generally release where theaters are open