Before You Know It
Comparing Before You Know It to the films of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach may be somewhat reductive, but it’s also a fairly substantial compliment. Many filmmakers have tried and failed to capture the specific New York City comedic neuroses that have defined the aforementioned writer/directors’ work, though in her feature-length debut, Hannah Pearl Utt succeeds amidst that challenging terrain, crafting a female-centric spin on familiar tropes that breathes new life into them.
Confident behind the frequently-moving camera, Utt is likewise a delight in front of it as Rachel, the long-suffering daughter of acclaimed playwright Mel Gurner (Mandy Patinkin) who’s taken the family’s leadership role with her childish father and arrested development sister Jackie (co-writer Jen Tullock) barely able to contribute.
The scribes’ trusting collaborative roots are evident through their effortless comfort with one another onscreen, inspiring steady laughter through a stream of one-liners and awkward physical humor. The material’s zippiness finds further support in the film’s talented side players, including Mike Colter (Luke Cage) as the family’s CPA and Alec Baldwin’s therapist, whose dual level-headedness makes the sisters’ eccentric behavior all the more humorous.
Greater than a goofy showcase of flawed humans acting irrationally, Before You Know It gains emotional resonance when Mel suddenly exits the picture and the siblings discover that their presumed-dead mother (Judith Light) is alive and well. Approaching the revelation with disparate reactions, they nonetheless allow themselves to fall under their matriarch’s spell and suffer raw personal and intertwined consequences as a result.
In the crosshairs of it all is Jackie’s ‘tween daughter Dodge (Oona Yaffe, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow), who, on top of experiencing an abandonment reminiscent of the previous generation of Gurner women, faces her own growing pains with minimal familial support. Tragically accustomed to her elders’ behavior, she’s imbued with sympathetic malaise by the wise-beyond-her-years young actor and become the necessary voice of reason in a household desperately in need of one.
A joy even when its characters are in tailspins, Before You Know It is a lean piece of entertainment and an exceptional calling card for Utt — and Tullock, whose contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. Their concerted effort warrants mention in the same class as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lena Dunham, Abbi Jacobson, and Ilana Glazer, as well as their more famous male peers.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but with adult language and content. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: 1091 Media)