There are numerous films that tackle the subject of dementia, but hardly ever from the patient’s point of view. We got a slight glimpse with the Oscar-winning performance from Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father and now we have Billy Crystal as the iconic fictional television writer Charlie Burnz in Here Today. Written and Directed by Crystal (co-written by Alan Zweibel), based on a short story “The Prize, “ the film gives audiences an opportunity to see that life and a sense of humor doesn’t end just because your memory begins to fade. There is actually value in comedy when ageism comes in the form of dementia, as it makes an unbearable disease a little easier pill to swallow.
I would be remiss in not saying I couldn’t help think about this battle briefly fought by Crystal’s partner in comedy crime – Robin Williams. Even Williams would be proud of the manner in which Charlie Burnz (Billy Crystal) is given dignity and repspect from one of the most unlikeliest of places – a young, Black subway singing chanteuse in the form of Tiffany Haddish (Emma Payge). Sometimes it’s those indivduals who aren’t closest to you who make the strongest impact and provide just the smidge of emotional support needed to weather the storm. Emma and Charlie’s generation gap aside, forming an unlikey friendship that redefines the meaning of love and trust provides the heart of Here Today.
One of the things I love about Billy Crystal’s writing is that it always comes from a personal place. Just like ‘City Slickers’ came from his love of westerns, with this film he throws in a nod to his Jewish heritage and Haddish’s experience of gigging at bar mitzvah’s as a struggling comedian to make ends meet. It kinda feels like if Harry and Sally went to Harlem for a minute. Watching Haddish sing a Fats Waller standard “You’re Feets Too Big” with unabashed enthusiasm and confidence is pure joy to behold. Between Crystal and Haddish’s acerbic wit the jokes land right in the pocket and make you appreciate a new twist on a buddy comedy. Pacing suffers a bit, but overall Billy Crystal has added another note in his cinematic compositon of a life well-lived with humor and dignity thorugh the words of Charlie Burnz and Emma Payge.