|'Before You Know It': Wherein the Critic Bemoans ...|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
12:32PM / Thursday, September 12, 2019
Wherein the Critic Bemoans the Vanishing of Local Moviehouses, Extolls the Virtues of Independent Films, Makes the World Safe for Democracy and Sings an Homage to the Family
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." — Leo Tolstoy, "Anna Karenina."
This quote came to mind as I watched director-writer Hannah Pearl Utt's "Before You Know It," a charmingly engaging dramedy with a screwball slant that teaches a life lesson or two while touching our hearts and tickling our funny bones. Besides, I always wanted to use that axiom.
The story is brainy, sophisticated and bereft of gratuitous violence. So don't expect to find it at the highway multiplex. It's about two sisters who discover a life-altering secret whilst living with their dad above the family's community theater. Nope — you'll have to visit one of the arthouse cinemas surviving mostly in college towns and upscale hamlets if you want to see what would once just be considered a good movie, but is now pigeonholed as the sort of thing imbibed only by the illuminati. Y'know, cultured folk like you and me.
I exaggerate only a little to make my sociological point about the dumbing down of America.
Granted, the dime novel has always had its useful, bread and circus place among our entertainment. But it has, alas, inflated to psychologically deleterious proportions, which, I fear, mirrors a society that currently refuses to show the chutzpah, wherewithal and conviction to rid itself of those military-style weapons that kill us and our children wholesale.
You would think we all have an uncle who works in the gun industry, and who couldn't possibly find gainful employment elsewhere if sound minds prevailed. Should we have continued to give ourselves lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and gosh knows what else because we were afraid of hurting cigarette company profits? If we're still here in a millennium or two, the anthropologists might look back at this as "The Death Wish Era" … when we persisted to cause ourselves harm even though we knew better. And don't get me started on climate change.
Gee, that Tolstoy got me going. See what a thought-provoking, independent film can do for your thinking processes. I feel smarter and more vital to the commonweal already. You think I might be able to take my SATs again?
But pardoning the indulgence, if you will, there is a movie review somewhere in this bit of tortured prose. The philosophical flotsam is just my transparent way of sidestepping the surprise that is the mind-expanding catalyst in this convivial bit of feature length humanism. So don't look at the advertised trailers or read another critic, especially my evil twin the critic.
Boasting a quirkiness worthy of a Wes Anderson film, until the, shh, grand divulgence, sisters Rachel and Jackie live in the world according to Mandy Patinkin's Mel Gurner, patriarch, playwright and loveable cynic. They are a one-family stage company that hasn't put on a production in the playhouse beneath their living quarters since gosh knows when. You see, Gurner, who has had his occasional moments in the limelight, is that form of artist whose fealty to the idea of theatrical orthodoxy and perfection is either a cover for his fear of success, an excuse for his shortcomings or a screwy little bit of both.
Jackie, played in a whirlwind of seriocomic rationalization by Jen Tullock, randomly throws herself at men, much to adolescent daughter Dodge's chagrin. And Rachel, who is a lesbian but too busy trying to conjure theatrical success for her dad to have a social life, is emoted with sympathetic complexity by film auteur Utt. Combined with a fine supporting stint by Judith Light, the mystery cause celebre, and Alec Baldwin's subtly humorous evocation of Dodge's sketchy therapist, it amounts to some pretty good ensemble acting.
It all works to warmly invite us into the Family Gurner's very own form of dysfunctional mishegoss. And, even if one has emanated from a nuclear unit as "normal" as the one depicted in "Ordinary People" (1980) before that household's cataclysmic epiphany turns things asunder, you might recognize some of your own brood's mechanisms for survival.
Whether above a theater or under the roller coaster where Alvy Singer's noise-compromised manse stood in "Annie Hall" (1977), the architectural idiosyncrasies are more binding than disruptive. I only bemoan that I was too little to appreciate the tavern we Goldbergers lived above on Birks Place in Newark when first we washed ashore. Maybe they could have used a piano player. Good, bad, but never really indifferent, as Robert Redford's Roy Hobbs informs while relating the virtue of Iris Gaines (Glen Close) hanging on to the family farm in "The Natural" (1984), "It's home."
Utt's anatomy of a family builds slowly, carefully and lovingly, its emotionally absorbing contemplations sure to win you over "Before You Know It."
"Before You Know It" is a 1091 Media release directed by Hannah Pearl Utt and stars Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock and Mandy Patinkin. Running time: 98 minutes