Ro Reviews: “Before You Know It”

Before You Know It, co-written by Jen Tullock and Hana Peral Utt, and directed by Hannah Pearl Utt is a multilayered off-beat dramedy. Set in 1990s New York, it follows a dysfunctional Gurner family living above a small independent theater. Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt), the level headed sister, is the reluctant stage manager to her playwright father Mel (Mandy Patinkin) and actress sister Jackie (Jen Tullock).

L to R_ Hannah Pearl Utt_Mandy Patinkin in Before You Know IT
L to R_ Hannah Pearl Utt_Mandy Patinkin in Before You Know IT

As the stable one in the family, Rachel worries about everything and works hard to control her father’s infantile acting out and her flamboyant and quirky sister’s reckless selfishness. Caught up in the middle of all this madcap mess is Jackie’s far too mature for her age preteen daughter Dodge (Oona Yaffe). When their father (Mandy Patinkin) dies, the sisters discover the mother Sherrell (Judith Light) they thought long dead, is not only very much alive but and living and working on a long-running soap opera in the same city. What happens afterward is a rollercoaster of cliches, comical missteps, emotional revelations, and flat out family drama.

Judith Light in Before You Know It
Judith Light in Before You Know It

Before You Know It‘s A Soap Opera Come to Life

Right from the beginning, Utt pulls the audiences into the family inner circle. It’s quickly obvious Rachel’s weighed down by the family burdens. Her entire life has been put on hold in order to keep her family together. As this story unfolds, the real question becomes, did she make a martyr of herself. Jackie is seemingly Rachel’s polar opposite she’s wildly impulsive, self-centered, and far too needy. She spends more time throwing herself at unavailable or disinterested men, coasting through life assuming things will miraculously work out and low key resenting her younger sister than trying to grow up. Neither truly trusts the other to be there for them. But despite often opposing motivations, the ties that bind may be stifling, these sisters love one another.

While the sisters track down and uncover their mother’s secrets, Dodge is left mostly to her own devices. In a series of event that drastic lack of attention paid to this young girl, another layer to this family dynamic unfolds. These moments and her unexpected friendship with a practical stranger (Mike Colter) and his precocious daughter reveal the emotional tangle that is her relationship with her mother. Dodge must figure out how to navigate puberty and grief on her own.

L to R_ Arica Himmel_Oona Yaffe in Before You Know It
L to R_ Arica Himmel_Oona Yaffe in Before You Know It

This story isn’t all dragging trauma and drama. Utt and Tullock use humor and irony to balance out this unconventional take on a family secret come-to-light. plus, the story never forgets the present-day problems plaguing these individuals, so there’s more than enough grit despite the handful of moments that don’t quite hit the right emotional buttons. All the characters are presented as complex, and having a unique vigor. Both Patinkinand Light shine in every scene. Their relationship dynamic plays out separately on-screen but th emotion and past carelessness can’t be missed. Each is a pivotal character and their part in this story is at turns hilarious, heartbreaking and fury-inducing.

Before You Know It opens in select theaters August 6, 2019. It’s not the usual fare but its telenovela feel, heart, and wit make an intriguing journey behind the scenes of a different kind of familial coming together.


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