Ok. We’re back in dementia territory. But not in the worst of ways. Old Jack here popped on a film without knowing what it was, beyond a Billy Crystal vehicle with Tiffany Haddish smiling out of the poster beside him. Comedy was the promise and comedy was delivered, but rather more besides. The TV room slowly turned into a super-spreader event as laughter echoed into the corridor and the nurses gave up wheeling us away. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of vaccines. And then… well, we’re all Here Today (2021).
The film is also directed by Crystal, and has a lovely sharpness to its dialogue for something that dives head-second into the mawk and and the sentiment. We all laughed, and slowly but moistly, we all began to weep.
So. Crystal is an ageing comedy writer, tolerated by the late night show he still contributes to, but tracking his way to work through familiar landmarks and known turns. Dementia enters the story at pace, second to the writers’ room on the show and a lunch Crystal has to attend with Tiffany Haddish (as Emma). She is also a bubbling ball of freshness for this kind of story. She has sort-of won the lunch with Crystal. For the mildly humiliating $22 her ex boyfriend bid on it, she has taken the lunch to spite said ex. And so a friendship is born. And a plot device triggered: she is allergic to the massive plate of seafood she downs, ending up in hospital with Crystal footing a bill of several grand to save her life. America, eh?
She begins to honour the debt despite his protestations. Their friendship builds as she take him to see a show – where she is the star – and collects cash from the audience to help pay them back. Girl got pipes. It’s all very nice: a friendship of generations. Back at his, she spots the signs of dementia he has been hiding. Pictures of his family with their names written beneath. So, friendship with kindness.
And that’s really it for the disease. Forgetfulness and flashbacks take up the meat of the rest of the story, as Crystal recalls his dead wife. Meeting her, loving her, losing her. In each flashback, the camera basks in Louisa Krause’s face as her Carrie flirts back, taking this dazed man easily into her world. But she is gone and Crystal’s Charlie pauses in moments of memory that don’t quite explain what happened to her. Likely the dementia, again. But it becomes clear their kids are pissed at him for something.
And there’s a missing painting on the wall in his flat.
And he needs his new friend to prod him into writing on blank pages dedicated to Carrie.
Old Jack is loathe to explain more. I caught some reviews a few months back, not realising they were for this film. Those young journalists were cynical and unsympathetic towards Crystal’s work. For the TV room, they were very wrong. As Charlie marks the homework of the writers of the show, turning jokes and helping the half-formed jokesters to their rhythm and punch, we never lose sight of the smart man and hard worker who is being destroyed. With Haddish, reading her friend with kindness and more sympathy than his family, a warmth is gifted the film like a promise to the afflicted. And the final beats of the thing, inevitable but not badly handled, took us oldsters to cynicism-free tears.
There was also a lot of laughter. Be that from the continued jokes, Crystal’s deft switches from sadness to dry wit, or – in the liveliest part of the story – the meeting of Haddish with the bat mitzvah of Crystal’s grand-daughter. She owns the room, and Crystal’s starchy family, but never lets go of the friendship at its heart. Lovely.
Anna Deavere Smith is also here as Crystal’s doctor. Sympathetic and realistic, effortlessly excellent, she marks Crystal’s fate in partnership with Haddish – and we could all wish for a scenario that kind.
As ever, if you are on the dementia path, Here Today could help or hurt you. It tells its story, with great performances in all directions, but doesn’t wallow in the worst humiliations of the disease.
So… make your choice knowingly.
Take a look; then make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Society.