'Before You Know It' a teacup ride of family drama and codependency

'Before You Know It' a teacup ride of family drama and codependency

Before You Know It, directed by Hannah Pearl Utt and written with Jen Tullock, is a dramatic comedy about two sisters who, after their father’s death, discover their presumed dead mother is actually alive, a soap opera star, and the owner of their family home and theater. (BV: 3.5/5.0)

Review by Junior Associate Beatrice Viri

In Before You Know It, the Gurners are a codependent family running a small theater that sustains itself through rentals. Mel (Mandy Patinkin), the patriarch, insists on remaining a starving artist for the sanctity of his art. His eldest daughter Jackie (Jen Tullock) indulges his desires, and barely acts as an adult despite having preteen daughter Dodge (Oona Yaffe). The youngest daughter, Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt), is forced to become a control freak since her two other family members refuse to grow up.

Rachel manages to secure a fellowship for her father, but things quickly decline when he makes a fool of himself with his acceptance speech. Rachel, fed up with his irresponsibility, induces a heated argument, which triggers Mel’s heart attack. He dies, and the girls are distraught, but Rachel is especially worried about their debts and finances.

A trip to the lawyer’s office, however, reveals that the will passes their properties to Sherrell Gurner (Judith Light), Jackie and Rachel’s late mother. But the mother presumed to be dead is alive and well. Not only that, but a soap opera star to boot— and the one who’s been paying for their theater and rent the whole time. How will the Gurner sisters deal with the mother they thought never existed, but was right in front of them the whole time?

Before You Know It was overall fun and feel-good, but I left the theater feeling like something was lacking. The two main leads are both charismatic, yet strikingly realistic; both Utt and Tullock’s acting felt so natural that perhaps that’s why I wanted more— I wanted to see them have satisfying conclusions. We don’t get to see Rachel become more independent, or Jackie become an “adult” in place of constant screwups. We are only left with stepping stones at the end. But that’s what makes Before You Know It so realistic; we don’t get to see most people’s happy endings, and life simply goes on. 

Nonetheless, potential riveting plotlines such as Dodge’s father and her friend Olivia’s (Arica Himmel) mother are briefly mentioned, but never brought up again. Olivia’s father (Mike Colter) is a humorous presence, and it was also disappointing to see both him and Alec Baldwin’s wry therapist character appear in only brief, small flashes. 

The pacing is rather unconvincing; it’s hard to believe that all of these life-changing events happen in the span of a few days, a week at most. I commend Utt and Tullock’s portrayals of grief as both characters deal with grief unconventionally and chaotically, reminding us that there’s no one way to mourn. Even so, it’s hard to believe that they seem basically over the death by the end, especially as Mel raised them as a single parent— but dwelling on it would also not fit the light-hearted drama of the film, either.

A delightful coincidence was seeing Before You Know It filmed at the Quad, where many of our FF2 run-arounds occur and where Jan and I watched the movie. In the heart of Greenwich Village, Before You Know It is a quaint, witty film for light fun. It’s not hilarious or painstakingly sad, but will strike those with close yet complicated relationships with their family. And if you want to see a film with casual LGBT representation, Rachel is a lesbian with a killer wardrobe— sure, the whole film will leave you wanting more, but that’s one perk, at least.

© Beatrice Viri (9/3/19) FF2 Media

Interview by FF2media’s Lesley Coffin with main actresses Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock here

Photos: Before You Know It promotional poster, Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock in Before You Know It

Photo Credits: 1091 Media, Still by Anna Kooris

Does Before You Know It pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! A film based on two sisters is bound to!


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