© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Here Today' And 'The Water Man' Are Here Just In Time For Mother's Day

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two of this weekend's new movies come from directors who are better known as actors. Billy Crystal stars in and directs "Here Today" about an increasingly forgetful comedy writer. And David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma," makes his directing debut with the family film "The Water Man." Critic Bob Mondello says both stories are warmly sentimental.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In "The Water Man," 10-year-old Gunner is a budding comic book artist with a vivid imagination...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

LONNIE CHAVIS: (As Gunner) Detective Knox approached the cemetery like he had done so many times before.

MONDELLO: ...A love of reading...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

ROSARIO DAWSON: (As Mary Boone) The book store. Did you go by there again today?

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) Yeah.

MONDELLO: ...And a very sick mom, which makes his next comment troubling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) And I went to a funeral.

DAWSON: (As Mary Boone) A funeral?

DAVID OYELOWO: (As Amos Boone) You shouldn't be going to a stranger's funeral, Gunner. That's private. Why would you do that?

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) It was just for research.

MONDELLO: His detective comic's hero is a ghost, but when he hears his folks talking that night, he heads back to the bookstore.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) I'm doing new research. I'm going to need every book you have on leukemia.

MONDELLO: What he reads about leukemia is not encouraging, but a note left accidentally in one of the books gives him a new mission - to find a former undertaker who's an expert on a local myth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

ALFRED MOLINA: (As Jim) Why do you care so much about the Water Man?

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) The note I saw in this book says that he's immortal.

MOLINA: (As Jim) Yeah, well, death is a strange thing. One instant you're alive, rejuvenating cells, forming memories, interacting with the world around you. And then in the blink of an eye, your heart stops beating. Cookie?

MONDELLO: Death is permanent, except for the Water Man, he says, and starts spinning a tale...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

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

MONDELLO: ...That first-time director David Oyelowo, who also plays Gunner's dad, illustrates by having the boy's comic book drawings come to life. Bringing life to the wilderness quest that follows proves tougher, especially with Rosario Dawson, his mom, stuck home sick. But Gunner, played with smarts by "This Is Us's" Lonnie Chavis, packs his E.T. lunchbox - there's a definite Spielberg vibe here - befriends an abused girl from town and braves wild horses, bugs, rushing water...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WATER MAN")

CHAVIS: (As Gunner) I can't swim.

MONDELLO: ...And a wildfire on the way to a predictably heartfelt conclusion that will still be plenty suspenseful for younger kids.

The dramedy "Here Today" approaches family dynamics from the opposite end of the age spectrum and, interestingly for a Mother's Day weekend release, also sidelines Mom from the main action. Billy Crystal plays a comedy writer for a "Saturday Night Live"-type show who's near the end of a long career, his memory fading but still celebrated enough to have been won by Tiffany Haddish at a charity auction.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HERE TODAY")

BILLY CRYSTAL: (As Charlie Berns) I am so flattered that somebody 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 on you.

CRYSTAL: (As Charlie Berns) How much?

HADDISH: (As Emma Payge) 22.

CRYSTAL: (As Charlie Berns) $2,200? That's 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 it went up in 50-cent increments.

MONDELLO: Lunch goes downhill from there, a seafood allergy sending her to the hospital and saddling him with the hospital bill. But they become unlikely pals - comedy icon and street singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HERE TODAY")

HADDISH: (As Emma Payge, rapping) Your girl, she likes you. She thinks you're nice, got what it takes to go to paradise.

MONDELLO: And she figures out what he's been hiding from everyone but his doctor. His memory isn't just fading.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HERE TODAY")

CRYSTAL: (As Charlie Berns) I could forget what I had for lunch while I'm having lunch. But then something flies into my head like, bam, and it's like I'm there.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HERE TODAY")

CRYSTAL: (As Charlie Berns) It's all of these young kids, and I'm like the old man on the block whose yard you don't want to hit the ball into. But when one of my jokes hits right and the audience laughs, there's still nothing like it.

MONDELLO: Plenty of jokes in "Here Today" hit right. Crystal knows sketch comedy. And he and Haddish make sure that the sentiment mostly hits right, too, which is not to suggest subtlety is the film's strong point. It's broad and bleary-eyed. And like "The Water Man," it's predicated on a notion that feels as if it's been specifically tailored for mid-pandemic audiences that a lot of essentially unsolvable problems can be solved by a group family hug.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE ROSEN'S "HERE TODAY END CREDITS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.