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Thread: BEFORE YOU NOW IT (Hannah Pearl Utt 2019)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    BEFORE YOU KNOW IT (Hannah Pearl Utt 2019)



    Growing up late

    This Sundance movie relies a lot on the audience's presumed patience and amusement with some mild New York eccentrics, and authentic Lower Manhattan locations are one of its charms. Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt, who cowrote the script, play two unlike sisters, Jackie and Rachel. They are part of a codependent family who live in an apartment over an off-off-Broadway theater in Greenwich Village dominated by their father, Mel (Mandy Patinkin), whose unsuccessful plays have been put on in the theater for years. The world that has long revolved around Mel's rather dubious artistic needs, cracks open when, in the middle of staging a melodramatic moment, Mel has a stroke and departs this world. Then there is a revelation and Jackie and Rachel's reunion with a face from the past.

    Mel's death prompts Jackie and Rachel to look at papers about ownership of the theater, and discover beside Mel's name that of Sherrell (Judith Light). This longtime soap opera star turns out to be their mother, who Mel had long told them was dead.

    Rachel, the plain-dressing, responsible one (played by Utt, who also directed) never got to go to college. Jackie, with her busty blouses and over-short skirts, is the zaftig, ditsy one, who has a kid, the young Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Along with reuniting Jackie and Rachel with Sherrell, the plot finds a playmate for the neglected Dodge, the 13-year-old Olivia (Arica Himmel), daughter of Charles (Mike Colter) the accountant the sisters call in to sort out their dire financial situation. There are some droll moments - not very important, though - with Alec Baldwin in a small role as Peter, a shrink Dodge is briefly sent to. A throwaway role that's literally thrown away, lost perhaps in the shuffle of Sundance workshopping.

    The sisters and the mom bond over business. Rachel has ideas about how Sherrell can improve her show scripts, especially when a young writer wants to eliminate her character by putting her in a coma because he think's she's too old. And indeed (is this remotely plausible?) she has played this role for three decades. The young girls get excited at the idea that their single parents might fall in love, marry, and make them sisters. Or at least this is Olivia's idea. These girls may be more convincing and wholeheartedly appealing than the adults. A couple little scenes they have are cute and true.

    This story seems too loosely-slung by half, though that may also be one of its charms. I tend to sympathize with those who've said Tullock and Utt may have worked too long together to be critical of each other's ideas. The movie also can't decide whether it wants to be sincere, sad, or jocular. In his Variety review, Dennis Harvey calls this movie "a diverting yet awkward mix of farcical elements and earnest feeliness." He points out the coauthors met in "the Manhattan theater world" and says this material is like Off Broadway comedies "with a heart of gold" like "Happy Birthday Gemini, Thieves, etc." that usually come off as "forced and theatrical on celluloid." Theater transferred to celluloid can become doubly theatrical and I felt like I was in a world of would-be.

    This effect is counteracted however (perhaps self-consciously) by some low-keyed delivery. Not all, but many of the lines are tossed off quietly instead of shouted brightly in a stagy manner, timed for quick laughs. But this naturalness, not always suited to the far-fetched material anyway, loses the pitch and rhythm of a well-directed play, undercut as well by frequent shifts of scene and on-screen costume changes that slow the momentum. Unnecessary song choices don't help either.

    The movie is not strong on structure. It's not till the last quarter hour that Rachel reveals to her mother that Mel is dead, and the misapprehensions she and her sister have been under. The maturity and going out on their own moments for the two sisters are held to the last minutes, not so much as carefully planned climaxes as crammed in before it's too late.

    Before You Know It, 98 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2019, included in nearly a dozen other mainly US festivals, Edinburgh, and a couple of gay fests, though the gay twist comes only at the very end. Theatrical release Aug. 30, 2019. Metascore 61%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-31-2019 at 02:44 PM.


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