Here Today stars Billy Crystal as Charlie Burnz, a television comedy warhorse, and Tiffany Haddish as a quip-making busker who becomes his unlikely chum. It feels like the third top-grossing comedy of 1991, a modest hit released snugly between Crystal’s turn in When Harry Met Sally and his directorial debut, Mr Saturday Night.
Tonally it’s so early-1990s; there’s a scene in which Haddish’s Emma drags out Charlie’s granddaughter (Audrey Hsieh), with a raucous rendition of Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart that gets the attending rabbis rocking.
After a long career writing successful movies and Broadway shows, Charlie is a talisman on a show that looks like Saturday Night Live called This Just In. Some of the younger contributors question his presence in the writers’ room, but he still knows how to polish the delivery and timing of what passes for a joke on American TV.
The unromantic rom-com structure is more interesting on paper than in practice
Neither Charlie’s coworkers nor his family knows that he is in the early stages of dementia, or that flashbacks to traumatic events in his past can leave him distressed and disoriented.
He finds an unlikely cheerleader in Emma (a curiously underdeveloped role for Haddish), a street performer who, for convoluted reasons, ends up winning a lunch with Charlie. One life-threatening reaction to seafood later and the two become firm friends. She nudges him along on his long-delayed memoir dedicated to his late wife (Louisa Krause) and towards a reunion with his estranged children (Penn Badgley and Laura Benanti).
At a 30th-anniversary screening of fictional classic rom-com Call Me Anytime – featuring Barry Levinson, Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline and Bob Costas as themselves – Emma realises that Charlie isn’t joking when he fails to recognise director Levinson.
There are mawkish moments, phoney sentiments, and unlikely circumstances. The unromantic rom-com structure is more interesting on paper than in practice. This is a film with a big heart and more zingers than actual laughs.
There is no neat contemporary equivalent to Billy Crystal’s shtick. At times, Here Today feels like looking at a tableau vivant or courtly fool antics. No matter: Crystal is still the jester to beat.
Opens September 3rd