Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt) longs for a life of freedom, one that includes a place where she can be alone with a date. Instead she is stuck living above a small theatre, that her family owns, with her playwright father Mel (Mandy Patinkin), her actress sister Jackie (Jen Tullock, who co-wrote the script), and her 12-year-old niece Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Compelled by her sense of duty to her family, Rachel is the glue that seems to keep this quirky unit together. However, when Mel passes away unexpectedly Rachel and Jackie find themselves in uncharted territory.
Determined to produce their father’s final play, the sisters discover that the theatre is in major debt. Even more shocking is the revelation that their mother, who they believed was dead, is not only alive and well, but is also famed soap opera actress Sherell (Judith Light). As the siblings attempt to find Sherell, and neglect other responsibilities in the process, they are forced to reflect on the different paths their lives have taken.
While the concept of discovering family secrets after a parent’s death is a overused plot convention, Before You Know It manages to breathe fresh life into familiar tropes. The script by Utt, who also directs the film, and Tullock is filled with numerous comedic moments. It is through the humour that the film poignantly examines the ramifications of abandonment, be it by choice or death, on children and spouses. Regardless of whether one is from a dysfunctional unit like Rachel or fostering a more stable environment like accountant Charles (Mike Colter) the void still cuts deep.
Though Before You Know It does a solid job of balancing themes of abandonment, adolescence and the uncertainty that comes with paving one’s own path, the film does feel a little too episodic at times. There are sections, take for example the hilarious scenes involving therapist Peter (Alec Baldwin), that have no real impact on the core story. Fortunately, the fine performances by the ensemble allow humour to rise above these moments. Utt and Tullock display wonderful chemistry and are a treat to watch. It should also be noted that Judith Light, a treasure in her own right, is outstanding as the aging soap opera diva struggling to stay relevant.
A showcase for Utt and Tullock’s undeniable talent, Before You Know It is a charming comedic look at three generations of women navigating the unexpected curveballs that family and life can throw.
Friday, May 24, 9:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox