Tag Archives: Penn Badgley

Funny How?

Here Today

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.

Greetings from Father and Son

by George Wolf


You might expect a film biography of legendary singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley to provide a heroic overview of his short life and conclude with his stirring version of Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”

Greetings from Tim Buckley doesn’t cater to such cliches. Instead, it focuses on a brief period in Buckley’s pre-stardom days to carve out a satisfying look at a young artist struggling to find his voice.

Much of that struggle involved coming to terms with the legacy left by Tim Buckley, the father he barely knew. Tim released nine albums before his fatal overdose at age 28, and director/co-writer Daniel Algrant anchors the film around a 1991 tribute concert held in Tim’s honor.

That show was also Jeff Buckley’s performing debut, and Algrant intersperses Jeff’s nervous preparation with flashbacks to Tim’s nomadic life on the road in the 1960s.

A movie such as this rises and falls on the lead actor, and Penn Badgley, known mostly from TV’s “Gilmore Girls,” delivers a star-making performance. He not only has the look, but Badgley does his own singing in the film, coming damn close to Buckley’s haunting wail.

Though there are a few moments of TV movie mentality, when moody pouting is meant to convey inner turmoil, Badgley and Algrant prove to be a formidable team.

By ’91, Jeff had yet to conquer the New York club circuit, and was still three years away from making Grace, his only studio album. In bypassing the more well-known aspects of Jeff’s story, the film gains a spark of originality. Small, contrasting moments, such as Jeff”s playful vocal outbursts and his quiet desire to drop by one of his father’s old apartments, provide effective glimpses of a young man not knowing quite what to make of his destiny.

In a similar vein, crisscrossing the lifelines not only provides father and son an ethereal connection on film, but also reinforces the scars left by the lack of any actual bond.

Sadly, Jeff also met an early grave, drowning in 1997.  Through Algrant’s respectful treatment, and Badgley’s effective portrayal, Greetings from Tim Buckley should please fans and give the uninitiated an urge to look deeper into the family legacy.