Hannah Pearl Utt's feature debut is a gorgeous-looking and layered dramedy about two sisters attempting to take control of their lives
BEFORE YOU KNOW IT (Hannah Pearl Utt, U.S.). 98 minutes. Rating: NNN
Actor and screenwriter Utt makes her feature debut with a gorgeous-looking, layered family drama about outwardly different sisters Rachel and Jackie (Utt and her co-writer, Jen Tullock) who run an indie theatre and are struggling to take control of their lives.
The plot is pure melodrama: When their playwright father (Mandy Patinkin) dies, they discover the mother they thought was dead (a typically excellent Judith Light) is not only alive, but is a famous soap opera star who will inherit the East Village brownstone they live in with Jackie’s pre-teen daughter, Dodge (Oona Yaffe).
The framing emphasizes interiors and gives a strong sense of place and a warm, cozy colour palette that subtly shifts as the characters grow more vulnerable. And a meta-narrative about the way women are portrayed on screen leads to some sly satire.
Utt has created a lived-in, believable world but saps the central drama with digressions that are either unfunny (Alec Baldwin as a therapist) or unconvincing (Yaffe sounds like an adult talking through a child). There are so many tantalizing themes at play – gentrification, generational change in the arts, grief and parental estrangement – but much of Before You Know It’s emotional terrain is left under-explored.