Before You Know It, (2019), is a quirky American comedy with touches of surrealism directed by Hannah Peart Utt who also stars in her film as Rachel Gurner. It features an eclectic cast from heavyweights such as Alec Baldwin (Peter), Mandy Patinkin (Mel Gurner), Judith Light (Sherrill), to Jen Tullock (Jackie Gurner), Oona Yaffe (Dodge Gurner), and Mike Colter (Charles).
It’s the story of two sisters, one a single parent, who is living with their beloved father who learns that their mother is alive and well and a famous soap opera star to bout when their cantankerous, beloved father, Mel Gurner, dies suddenly. Finding out the truth about their supposed deceased mother drives the dramatic tension of the film set against a backdrop of cityscapes of New York City, which is in and of itself, a character in the story. Where else could such a story take place?
The performances of the main and supporting characters make the film. Hannah gives a stellar performance as Rachel Gurner infusing her character with authenticity and gravitas. She radiates a combination of street smarts, charm, wit, intelligence, and vulnerability. Tullock plays the flaky sister and smothering mom who dresses inappropriately to a fault, and Oona plays her cool, sane teenage daughter Dodge who provides a refreshing contrast to both mother and aunt. Utt weaves together many visual elements to create a funny film juxtaposing the narrative of finding their mother against the loss of their father and the simmering tensions and dysfunctional family dynamics of an atypical New York family who operate a community theatre in the village. New York City features prominently in the film framing and contextualizing the narrative and storyline, giving the film depth and complexity. It’s a beautifully shot film and the cutaways of NYC are candy to the eye evoking feelings of wanderlust.
It’s a marvelous film drawing on the many features of comedy from slapstick humour to funny one-liners to comedic situations that drives the storyline. Patinkin’s performances are riveting and his stage performance to promote his play is a hoot to watch as he throws his chance to have it professionally staged when he decides to act all childish and silly. Baldwin’s performance as the anal-retentive psychotherapist who chastises Dodge from playing with an antique toy and pushes instead a box of kleenex is another comedic moment. It’s an enjoyable romp of a film full of twists and turns which fuel the narrative. One of the funniest scenes tinged with drama is the scene involving the antics of the two sisters as they illegally make their way onto the TV set to catch a glimpse of their mother. The motif of the pathology of a dysfunctional family with secrets and lies runs through the film stitching the narrative into a cohesive structure. It was wonderful to watch Ms. Light’s performance who really is a famous soap opera star hamming it up all decked out in her finery and gobs of dramatic makeup. She is a gem of an actress.
The film resonated with me on a personal level such as the importance of family albeit its dysfunction and pathology in a post-modernist world and celebrating the concept of second chances which everyone is deserving of. Second chances allow us to redeem ourselves with relationships to self and others. But, it’s more than a comedic film, but a coming of age film for Rachel, Jackie, and Dodge as they navigate their new circumstances and move on with their lives. The acting, the storyline, the dialogue, the soundtrack, and the cinematography make it a wonderful and enjoyable film. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
Films We Like releases Before You Know It at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, September 20, 2019