Sundance 2019: Before You Know It

Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock appear in Before You Know It by Hannah Pearl Utt, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Anna Kooris.

Before You Know It manages to successfully blend the dysfunctional family comedy and soap opera genres together with a Jewish sensibility.

Imagine living in your childhood apartment with your father, sister, and niece.  This is the situation that Rachel Gurner (Rachel Gurner)–stage manager at her family’s downstairs theatre–finds herself in.  The situation is one that isn’t so great for dating as Rachel learns rather quickly.  Together with sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) and father (Mandy Patinkin), they’re working to put on Mel’s new play, The Way I See It.  It’s a really good play–one that Rachel believes people need to see.  Things are going well for the Gurner family until Mel suddenly passes away.

Until Mel’s death, the sisters have always been told their mother died when they were very young.  She’s very much alive and well.  There’s just one minor problem: Sherrell Ghearhardt (Judith Light) is working actress on Time Will Tell, a soap opera celebrating fifty years.  This means that they’ll have to come up with some sort of creative scheme in order to meet her.

While all of this is going on, Jackie’s daughter, Dodge (Oona Yaffe), is in therapy with Peter (Alec Baldwin).  For what it’s worth, these sessions aren’t going so well.  Peter isn’t the best therapist and his clients are better off finding another one.  The sisters bring on Charles (Mike Colter) to help them with settling their father’s estate.  Charles is forced to look after Dodge because Jackie is off trying to get to know her mother.  As this takes place, Dodge becomes friends with Charles’ daughter, Olivia (Arica Himmel).

By having Sherrell be an actress in the film, the script is able to comment on the current sexism in the industry.  We hear people talk about this all the time but the film helps to reinforce this aspect.  When actresses start getting older, the jobs don’t exist in the same way as when they were younger.  Working with her mom, Rachel comes up with ways to prevent her from being written off of the series.  Put it this way: if Mel didn’t die, Sherrell could very easily have been out of a job soon.

Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock’s script take the comedy hijinks in Before You Know It to the next level.  The Jewish sensibility of Before You Know It makes the film an art house comedy we rarely see these days.  Unfortunately, filmmakers don’t really make films like this anymore.  Having worked together for several years now, this duo has a way of knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  This shows not only in the script but in how they act off of each other in the film.  The film marks a solid directorial debut for Hannah Pearl Utt.

DIRECTOR:  Hannah Pearl Utt
SCREENWRITERS:  Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock
CAST:  Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock, Judith Light, Mike Colter, with Mandy Patinkin and Alec Baldwin

Before You Know It held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.