Before You Know It

A pair of sisters finds out that the mother they thought was dead is alive and starring on a soap opera.

Hannah Pearl Utt is a significant talent. As the star, co-writer, and director of the new dramedy Before You know It, she manages each of her roles well. Very well, in fact. Yet, my notes on the film don’t stem from an opinion that she would have done better to focus on one job and perfect that. No, I believe that Utt has a clarion understanding of character development, plot, comedy, and in particular how to draw candid moment from her actors. She simply needs to continue honing her craft.

Before You know It starts with Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt) finishing up a date before saying goodnight and having to disappear into her home. She enters the tall brownstone building that is mixed use living space and hole-in-the-wall theatre. It’s Dodge (Oona Yaffe), Rachel’s niece that spots the lipstick from a goodnight kiss first and her family immediately begins to interrogate her. As sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) chatters away, Rachel continues to attempt to engage her father Mel (Mandy Patinkin), about rewrites for his new play. The typical eccentric artist, Mel has no time for serious planning, criticisms or practicality. With money dwindling, and bills piling up, Rachel is most concerned with keeping her father’s play staged in the family theatre, but his eccentricities are more than a little unsettling to potential investors.

“…Rachel and her sister Jackie discover that their long lost mother is actually a rich soap opera star…”

That is when Rachel and her sister Jackie discover that their long lost mother, Sherrell (Judith Light), is actually a rich soap opera star whom they have been watching for years on TV. The wilder of the two, Jackie insists they try to meet her and in a series of chances they sneak onset and introduce themselves. Meanwhile, the new accountant for the family’s theatre, Charles (Mike Colter), is coping with being a single father and ignoring the romantic overtures Jackie is throwing his way.

As the film evolves, conflicts ensue, connections ebb and flow as the characters come to terms with their respective situations and somehow navigate their way to peace and greater maturity. We have seen this type of coming-of-age romcom before, but Utt and co-writer co-star Tullock create moments of honesty and believability that are a welcome addition to the formula. The writing is near all the way there, but certain things just don’t entirely work, while others are brilliant flashes of candor and warmth, peppered with razor-sharp quips.

“…Utt and Tullock take the same familiar elements and end up finding some absolutely hilarious scenes…”

Perhaps the most cringe-inducing performance I have seen in years, Patinkin plays the father as an unchained man-child. Playing a ukelele and chirping in weird falsetto caricatures, he makes nearly every scene he is in slightly uncomfortable. It is a shame that his real talents are never given a chance to rise to the surface. Meanwhile the absolute stand-out is Tullock as the free-spirited Jackie. As the yin to Rachel’s dower yang, Tullock’s performance is a racing, chatterbox of nervous energy and good intentions. Light, as the newly discovered mother, is adequate here, and while a huge fan of hers, I feel that she never seemed to get the arc that others in the story are offered.

As it stands now Before You Know It comes off as pharmaceutical-grade Hallmark Channel, which means that Utt and Tullock take the same familiar elements and end up finding some absolutely hilarious scenes that remind us why we love the movies, to begin with, just not consistently.

Before You Know It (2019) Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt. Written by Jen Tullock, Hannah Pearl Utt. Starring Jen Tullock, Hannah Pearl Utt, Judith Light, Mike Colter. Before You Know It screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

7 out of 10 stars

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