It feels so wonderful to have Billy Crystal back in the saddle as a director. This comic virtuoso best remembered for what he made Meg Ryan feel at a restaurant in When Harry Met Sally, is a talent of many shades. His brilliant comic timing and his ability to salvage a crisis, no matter how grave, with humour is so remarkable that we tend to forget that real life is far tougher than what it is shown to be in the movies.
Here Today is an uneven but extremely heartwarming script about an aging comedy writer Charles, for long employed by a studio that has amply reaped the seasonal harvests of his comic genius. Now we can see he has become somewhat redundant at his workplace. At least that’s what the younger colleagues whisper, though the studio boss will hear none of it.
On top of all this, Charles has begun to develop symptoms of dementia. The forgetfulness is at that stage where Charles can feel himself forgetting things. Before oblivion overpowers his senses there is work to be done, words to be written before they(the words) begin to fade.
At this very critical juncture of his life Charles runs into Emma (Tiffany Haddish), She is black and feisty, hungry and thirsty constantly searching for a meaning for her existence as a lounge singer beyond the stage. Haddish, let me tell you, is a riot.She breezes into Charles life lighting up the screen like a firecracker in Diwali, pinning down his approaching illness as an approaching storm,instilling a renewed confidence in Charles who is badly shaken by impending catastrophe.
“Of course I see the humour of my situation,” he tells his doctor(Anna Deavere Smith) who behaves as if she decided to moonlight as a medico in the middle of a stand-up act.The film brings together humour and a chance to revisit some of our oldest neuroses about aging and dying, without wallowing in schmaltz.Some portions of the plot , like Emma breaking into Janis Joplin number at a Bar Mitzvah, are cheesy in their formalism. However the mood is always upbeat even when circumstances threaten to weigh down Charles’s spirit.
The Crystal-Haddish chemistry is the USP of this endearing dramedy. There is no sex between them and yet the chemistry is palpable. The other young character who makes an impression on Crystal is Darrel, a young earnest comedy writer , played by Andrew Durand who has the most unusual face since Adam Driver. The actors, including the ones who play Charles’ family, are in this for a life-changing experience. Here Today doesn’t quite make it to that level of lucidity .But its grammar of wisdom and mortality is impeccable.
Most of all, this is Billy Crystal’s opportunity to project his own fears and insecurities of aging in a film that sparkles with an emotional transparency. There is a sequence on a stage where Crystal is being honoured for his writing. The guests on stage are Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline and director Barry Levinson. What ensues can only be described as a comedy of errors where Sharon Stone gets to be Meryl Streep. Charles is losing the plot. That’s Crystal clear.
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