'Before You Know It' a genuine if flawed showcase for its filmmakers

  • Two sisters (Hannah Pearl Utt, left, and Jen Tullock, right) reconnect with their mother (Judith Light) in "Before You Know It."

    Two sisters (Hannah Pearl Utt, left, and Jen Tullock, right) reconnect with their mother (Judith Light) in "Before You Know It." Courtesy of 1091 Media

 
By Michael O’Sullivan
The Washington Post
Posted9/5/2019 6:00 AM

"Before You Know It" - ★ ★

The main story line of "Before You Know It" concerns two adult sisters: Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt), a mousy 30-something who buries herself in her work as the stage manager of a tiny Greenwich Village theater run by her actor/playwright father (Mandy Patinkin); and Jackie (Jen Tullock), an actress and single mother to the tomboyish 12-year-old Dodge (the wonderful Oona Yaffe).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When Dad dies suddenly, Rachel and Jackie are shocked to discover that there's another name on the deed to the theater, in addition to his: It's their mother (Judith Light), a woman who they thought was dead, but who turns out to be a successful soap opera actress.

The inevitable awkward meeting and the subsequent comic thawing of tensions -- why exactly did she leave them? -- is the engine that drives this quirky little film, but it's mainly a vehicle to showcase the laid-back gifts of Utt, who directed the film, and Tullock, who shares a writing credit with her. (The two are best known as co-creators of the web series "Disengaged," in which they play a lesbian couple considering marriage.) Although most of the film takes place in that mother-daughter reunion lane, its far more interesting bits take place along the edges and outskirts of the central narrative.

Those fringes include Alec Baldwin as Dodge's unhelpful therapist, a married man who also happens to be having an affair with Jackie, and Mike Colter ("Luke Cage") as the theater's new accountant, a single father whose daughter quickly becomes Dodge's BFF (Arica Himmel). The two girls plot how they can fix up their parents with each other and become sisters.

Two friends (Arica Himmel, left, and Oona Yaffe) scheme to fix up their parents in "Before You Know It."
Two friends (Arica Himmel, left, and Oona Yaffe) scheme to fix up their parents in "Before You Know It." - Courtesy of 1091 Media
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It's hard to say what exactly "Before You Know It" wants to be about, thematically. Forgiveness? Letting go? Reconnecting with a long-lost someone (and also with yourself)? Those never wholly answered questions -- coupled with the imbalance between its so-so ostensible main plot and its far more interesting subplots -- makes it an odd thing. Are these traits flaws or features? That depends, to a large degree, on whether you're a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person.

As for me, I loved the relaxed, naturalistic rapport between Rachel, Jackie and Dodge, who live above the theater and whose relationships, while prickly at times, feel loving and -- more important -- recognizable.

"Before You Know It" isn't a deep movie, or a hilarious one, and Utt and Tullock probably don't expect it to be. But it is, in its undemanding, almost effortless way, warm and wise and watchable enough to be just this side of wonderful.

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Starring: Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock, Oona Yaffe, Judith Light, Alec Baldwin, Mandy Patinkin, Mike Colter, Arica Himmel

Directed by: Hannah Pearl Utt

Other: A 1091 Media release. Not rated. Contains coarse language and some mature thematic elements. 98 minutes

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