Writer/director Eric Schaeffer’s Before I Go stars Annabella Sciorra as Samantha, a single, middle-aged woman who is a shadow of her more exuberant and grander past self. As a long-time fan of Sciorra, I greatly appreciate her being cast as the lead. Samantha shuffles through her New York City life with a massive attitude, and takes care of her father (Robert Klein), while her past as a successful singer haunts her. Though successful in that former career, it never brought the affection she so desires.
Schaeffer spared no detail in creating Samantha’s mindset, and every little detail from her dowdy clothes, ankle injury, and overall pedestrian existence amplifies how she sees herself. Sciorra embraces every element of the role, especially Samantha’s lack of love to give out. Klein demonstrates his ability to create a complex but caring character throughout. The two actors play off each other in a way that suggests they truly are parent and child.
However, despite all its acting prowess and notable storyline for the middle-aged and aging, Before I Go is depressing. The movie is a difficult watch because Samantha is so down for so much of the runtime; one finds themselves empathetic to her but always wishing she would begin to care again. The script handles loneliness, sadness, depression, being single, aging, and caring for parents in a purposeful way, which is a rarity. The dramatic comedy opens on a scroll of Rumi’s The Guest House, which sets the looming melancholic tone of everything to follow.
“Samantha shuffles through her New York City life with a massive attitude, and takes care of her father…”
Before I Go could not have been made in any other city than New York because its construction depends greatly on how New Yorkers function and exist to move the story. Samantha and her father have lived in the city forever. As they try to declutter their lives and take care of one another, many buried wounds rise to the surface. Some of this best-forgotten pain Samantha has literally boxed up and labeled. Her father is trying to guide her through it all in his own way, but not without a challenge from Samantha. Although it’s a little contrived on how she climbs out of her fog into the next phase of her life, it is believable that certain situations can change one’s thinking, even if they are resistant at first.
Along the way to her reclamation of life and living, some funny, over-the-top characters come in and out of Samantha’s life. They are played by Willie Garson and Craig Bierko, respectively. Their theatrics might seem a little too big at first, what with the lead contemplating suicide at a certain point. But, the dark sense of humor Schaeffer injects into Samantha’s dialogue makes everything just a bit more bearable. New York City streets and sidewalks are shown frequently enough to be their own character. Well, they could be if the sets did not need more art direction to make them feel alive. The somber musical score and odd male characters do leave a bit to the imagination as well.
Still, Before I Go works chiefly because of its lead actors and the filmmaker’s keen understanding of how pain and suffering affect good people. While it is a hard watch, there is a certain charm to the production that keeps one invested. Plus, the numerous themes being tackled are done so respectfully and with full attention to authenticity and emotional honesty.
"…Sciorra embraces every element of the role..."