by George Wolf
Billy Crystal is a likable guy, and frequently funny. Tiffany Haddish is a likable gal, and often funny.
So there are possibilities for some odd couple fun in Crystal’s Here Today, but almost all of them are wasted in an overlong, self-indulgent, misguided and unfunny misfire.
Crystal, in his first big screen directing effort since 95’s Forget Paris, also co-writes and stars as Charlie, a legendary comedy writer currently working on a TV sketch show. Haddish is Emma, a singer whose boyfriend wins lunch with Charlie in a charity auction. But when the boyfriend becomes an ex, Emma shows up at the restaurant instead, and an unlikely friendship is born.
Charlie’s memory problems are quickly becoming an issue, as are the flashbacks to a vaguely traumatic event involving his ex-wife (Louisa Krause). Frequent visits to the doctor (Anna Deavere Smith) help Charlie hide his condition from his grown children (Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti), so the speed with which Emma sniffs it out is just one example of the falseness that plagues the entire film.
From phone conversations to reaction shots to skits on Charlie’s TV show, there’s hardly an ounce of authenticity to Crystal’s direction. And because none of these characters feel real, Charlie’s dismissive attitude toward the younger writers’ brands of comedy – complete with an embarrassing riff on Network‘s “mad as hell” speech – comes off as sour grapes from Crystal himself.
The script, based on co-writer Alan Zweibel’s short story “The Prize,” has only enough humor to elicit some scattered smiles. The bigger goal quickly becomes telling us how Charlie comes to grips with his condition and his past, and more disappointingly, showing us how Emma puts her own dreams on hold to pursue her magically healing effect on this white family.
Crystal has enjoyed many high points in a long and legendary career. He may very well have more, which would help everyone forget the lowlight that is Here Today.