• December 10, 2023

‘Here Today’ And ‘The Water Man’ Are Here Just In Time For Mother’s Day : NPR

Just in time for Mother’s Day, two films are full of family feelings. Billy Crystal’s Here Today stars as Tiffany Haddish. Daniel Oyelowo’s directorial debut The Water Man stars Rosario Dawson.

Two films full of emotions from unexpected directors. Billy Crystal is here today, through a comedy writer


Two of the new films this weekend are made by directors better known as actors. Billy Crystal stars and directs “Here Today” about an increasingly forgetful comedy writer. And David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”, makes his directorial debut with the family film “The Water Man”. The critic Bob Mondello says both stories are very sentimental.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In “The Water Man”, 10-year-old Gunner is a budding comic artist with a vivid imagination …


LONNIE CHAVIS: (as a shooter) Detective Knox was approaching the cemetery as he had done so many times before.

MONDELLO: … love of reading …


ROSARIO DAWSON: (as Mary Boone) The bookstore. Did you stop by there again today?

CHAVIS: (as a shooter) Yeah.

MONDELLO: … and a very sick mother, which makes his next comment worrying.


CHAVIS: (as a shooter) And I went to a funeral.

DAWSON: (as Mary Boone) A funeral?

DAVID OYELOWO: (as Amos Boone) You shouldn’t go to a stranger’s funeral, Gunner. This is private. Why would you do this

CHAVIS: (as a shooter) It was for research purposes only.

MONDELLO: The hero of his detective comic is a ghost, but when he hears his people talking that night, he goes back to the bookstore.


CHAVIS: (as a shooter) I’m doing new research. I’m going to need every book you have on leukemia.

MONDELLO: What he reads about leukemia isn’t encouraging, but a note accidentally left on one of the books gives him a new mission – to find a former undertaker who is an expert on a local myth.


ALFRED MOLINA: (as Jim) Why are you so interested in Aquarius?

CHAVIS: (as a shooter) The note I saw in this book says he’s immortal.

MOLINA: (as Jim) Yeah, death is a strange thing. In a moment you are alive, rejuvenating cells, forming memories and interacting with the world around you. And then your heart will stop beating in no time. Cookie?

MONDELLO: Death is permanent, except for Aquarius, he says and begins to tell a story …


MOLINA: (as Jim) His real name was Edward Schaal.

MONDELLO: … First-time director David Oyelowo, who also plays Gunner’s father, illustrates this by bringing the boy’s cartoon drawings to life. Bringing life into the wilderness quest that follows proves to be more difficult, especially when Rosario Dawson, his mother, is stuck at home sick. But Gunner, played by “This Is Us’s” Lonnie Chavis, packs his ET lunch box – there is a certain Spielberg mood here – and befriends an abused girl from town and defies wild horses, bugs, rushing water …


CHAVIS: (as a shooter) I can’t swim.

MONDELLO: … and wildfire on the way to a predictable, heartfelt conclusion that will still be exciting for younger children.

The dramedy “Here Today” approaches the family dynamic at the other end of the age spectrum and, interestingly enough for a publication on Mother’s Day weekend, also excludes mom from the main action. Billy Crystal plays a comedy writer for a Saturday Night Live-type show that is about to end a long career. His memory is fading, but he’s still partied enough to be won by Tiffany Haddish at a charity auction.


BILLY CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) I’m so flattered that someone your age would be a fan of my work.

TIFFANY HADDISH: (as Emma Payge) Truth?

CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) Sure.

HADDISH: (as Emma Payge) I don’t know who the hell you are. My ex-bid for you.

CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) How much?

HADDISH: (as Emma Payge) 22.

CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) $ 2,200? This is fantastic.

HADDISH: (as Emma Payge) Twenty-two dollars.

CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) Twenty-two dollars was the winning bid?

HADDISH: (as Emma Payge) It started at 20 and then went up in 50 cents increments.

MONDELLO: Lunch goes downhill from there, an allergy to seafood sends you to the hospital and saddles him up with the hospital bill. But they become unlikely friends – comedy icons and street singers.


HADDISH: (when Emma Payge knocks) Your girl, she likes you. She thinks you are nice and has what it takes to be paradise.

MONDELLO: And she finds out what he’s been hiding from everyone but his doctor. His memory doesn’t just fade.


CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) I might forget what I had for lunch while I was having lunch. But then something goes into my head, bam, and it’s like I’m there.

MONDELLO: Dementia, controlled for the moment, but complicates his relationship with his adult children and the sketch comedy show.


CRYSTAL: (as Charlie Berns) It’s all these little kids, and I’m like that old man on the block in whose yard you don’t want to hit the ball. But if one of my jokes hits right and the audience laughs, there is still nothing like it.

MONDELLO: A lot of the jokes in “Here Today” were right. Crystal knows about sketch comedy. And he and Haddish make sure that the feeling is mostly right, which doesn’t mean that subtlety is the film’s strong point. It is wide and has cloudy eyes. And, like “The Water Man,” based on a performance that feels like it is specifically tailored to the mid-pandemic audience, that many essentially unsolvable problems can be solved by a family group hug.

I am Bob Mondello.


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