Writer, director, and actor Hannah Pearl Utt may not be a well-known name just yet, but in examining her directorial and feature writing debut with Before You Know It, there’s reason to believe this young creator could have a fruitful career.
Chronicling the dysfunctional Gurner family of New York City, Utt stars as Rachel, a focused and business savvy gay woman, forced to put up with her own eccentricities and those of her family; sister Jackie (Jen Tullock, who co-wrote the script) has never really matured despite being the mother to a sophisticated pre-teen daughter, while the patriarch Mel (Mandy Patinkin), a dreamer and a largely failed playwright continues to live as if he’s in some idealized reality. In the wake of a sudden tragedy, the sisters seek out the glamorous soap opera star Sherrell (Judith Light) to answer some of the lingering mysteries about their family dynamic.
There is indeed a mixed bag of emotions presented in the movie; from laughter in one frame to sadness in the next, the problem largely lies with the fact that none of these emotions are particularly well developed. As a comedy the film is mediocre at best, eliciting infrequent chuckles and even then not anything really very funny. When it spotlights the family’s trials, the bickering between sisters, and their efforts to reconcile, we get a sense of something more profound but is ultimately neither very incisive or poignant.
Utt and Tullock unquestionably possess charming chemistry (especially for their totally polar opposite character personalities) but overall they are far from the most memorable screen pair ever seen. Mandy Patinkin is little used, while Judith Light is nothing really more than a stereotype of soap opera actors. Her character is said to be legendary (perhaps like an Erica Kane type), but we don’t actually see what’s so particularly great about her, other than her constant challenging of authority and the producers.
As a whole Before You Know It features moments of clever writing, good acting from Utt and Tullock, and an attempt at drama and comedy but none of these ever stand out. The film without a doubt shows that Hannah Pearl Utt is a talent to watch, as a writer and performer, but one that still needs to fine-tune her skills. There is nothing bad about this movie in any real sense, but there is conversely nothing really great. This is an average film, filled with elements that are generally pleasing but leave one wanting more; in viewing it audiences can really see the potential for further work to be snappier, funnier, and more emotionally authentic, but as it stands with Before You Know It we have a mostly forgettable movie.
Yet this does not mean that Hannah Pearl Utt has “failed” in any way, rather it signals that she is on the right track to make something better. And so perhaps this film may be considered as a testing ground for Utt to continue to polish her skills and fully exhibit the potential she has only teased at this time around.
[EIFF Review]: Before You Know It
Hannah Pearl Utt may not have crafted the proverbial "home run" as a first time director, but shows with Before You Know It, that it may be on the way.
Pleasing performances from Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock