Friday, February 1, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Before You Know It

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Before You Know It
Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt
U.S. Dramatic Competition

A life spent in the theater can often lead to a lot of drama. It’s not that those people who spend their days either on the stage or in proximity to it take on aspects of the roles they play or see performed, but rather that the industry is far from a reliable one, which can be both rewarding and punishing. The ebbs and flows of a career in theater can be heartening, and sticking with it requires determination and a sense of fulfillment in the work that a person is doing, fully aware that circumstances far beyond their control have the power to change the courses of their professional lives at any moment.

Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt) lives in an apartment above the New York City theater owned by her family with her father Mel (Mandy Patinkin), an actor who doesn’t want to be told what to do, her sister Jackie (Jen Tullock), hardly the most responsible and business-minded person, and her niece Dodge (Oona Yaffe), who is extremely precocious and witty. When Mel suddenly dies, Rachel and Jackie learn that the theater has been left to the apparent co-owner: a soap actress named Sherrell (Judith Light) who they quickly realize is the mother their father told them died when they were very young. Jackie wants to have a relationship with the woman who chose to leave them, while Rachel simply wants to keep her happy so that they don’t lose the theater.

This is a fun film that features different personalities clashing as they exist in the same small universe. Jackie, who has a penchant for making bad relationship decisions, including the married therapist (Alec Baldwin) she hires to work with Dodge, teases Rachel for dressing like a Mennonite caterer, far more reserved in her appearance and demeanor, matching that subdued nature with the minimal effort she puts into anything other than keeping the theater afloat. The two couldn’t be more different but work together well on screen, and Dodge provides her own subplot involving a newfound friendship with Olivia (Arica Himmel), the daughter of the accountant (Mike Colter) Rachel finds to help sort out Mel’s affairs, and who both Olivia and Dodge feel might be a good romantic fit for Jackie.

Utt and Tullock wrote this film together, and it’s entertaining to see how they cast themselves in their respective parts. Patinkin gets a worthwhile spotlight that’s far more comedic than most of the work he does these days, while Light dives fully into the excessive life of a selfish actress who can’t even figure out how to react to meeting her two adult daughters. Yaffe is a standout in her first film, surely set to do great things in the future. Utt’s feature directorial debut also shows great promise, as this creative talent clearly has a voice that comes through in this enjoyable if somewhat fleeting dramedy.


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