Director and co-writer Hannah Pearl Utt is good at delineating personality differences in Before You Know It. She also stars in her film as Rachel Gurner, the lone voice of sanity in a theater-owning family. She cleans up the messes that her unraveling actor father Mel (Mandy Patinkin) keeps making around them. And her volatile sister Jackie (co-writer Jen Tullock) joins her in damage control when Mel suddenly dies.
Utt and Tullock writes a mostly successful script, jugging three plot lines, two of them having major consequences. The first is Rachel and Jackie’s discovery that their mother Sherell (Judith Light) isn’t dead after all. Jackie’s impulse to meet Sherell spells disaster for Rachel, who thinks Sherell might sell Mel’s old theater. This involves running across New York City and Jackie occasionally leaving her daughter Dodge (Oona Yaffe) with strangers.
My apprehensions with Dodge’s story line have nothing to do with her safety – we’ll discuss this later. But for now, I’ll start with the nice things in Before You Know It, especially its visuals. It’s a crisp looking film with smooth transitions as Rachel and Jackie temporarily leave their Off Broadway world. The sisters, having different personalities, can belong to Sherell milieu of glamorous soap opera stars and handlers.
While getting to know Sherell, Rachel and Jackie also have Charles (Mike Colter) as their new accountant. Charles tells Rachel about the company credit card and other debts that she has no previous knowledge of. I know that Rachel is not an accountant but her not knowing this feels like a stretch. The same goes for a revelation about how Mel’s struggling Off Broadway theater kept afloat for decades.
Rachel and Jackie also leave Dodge, who’s experiencing puberty, to Charles and his rebellious daughter Olivia (Arica Himmel). Dodge and Olivia both have mommy issues – the former is dysfunctional and the latter died years ago. The parallels between the girls seem too close, only existing for Dodge to learn something from Olivia. Then there’s the third story line about Jackie’s therapist Peter that Utt and Tullock need to flesh out.
But I’m willing to tolerate the occasional story line cliche if a film has a good denouement. Which it does, because there’s an effective emotional resonance even to this film’s necessary third act arguments. Things like the acting and the music choices add up for Utt make those beats work magically well. There’s also humor and lightness here, making sure that there’s a closeness between characters.
For more information on Before You Know It go to https://www.tiff.net/events/before-you-know-it.
- Release Date: 9/20/2019