The only significant stumbling block that director Hannah Pearl Utt’s insightful comedy-drama “Before You Know It” makes may be that title, the sort of generic phrase usually attached to a Nancy Meyers-directed comedy where all the kitchens are immaculate — not the inspired mess that’s found here.
Utt and her longtime writing partner Jen Tullock star as sisters Rachel and Jackie, polar opposites in a rather dotty family. Rachel is stage manager and producer of the struggling Greenwich Village theater the family owns, mostly producing the brilliant but unappreciated plays of their dad, Max Gurner (Mandy Patinkin). Jackie is an underemployed actor who chases after the wrong men, drinks too much, and sometimes neglects her daughter, Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Rachel, Jackie, Dodge and Max all live upstairs from the theater, which puts a damper on Rachel being able to bring new girlfriends home after dates.
Then a family tragedy happens, and Rachel and Jackie are forced to confront the financial fate of their theater. That’s when they get a second shock: The co-owner of the property is the sisters’ mom, whom they thought had died decades ago. Nope, she’s alive and, under the name Sherelle, the longtime star of a network soap opera, played exquisitely by Judith Light.
Utt and Tullock’s script finds hilarious moments in Hannah and Jackie’s infiltration of the soap-opera studio to meet Sherelle for the first time. In the course of it, the sisters end up being background players, and Hannah becomes Sherelle’s secret punch-up writer.
Of course, the irony of Rachel and Jackie infiltrating a soap opera, considering their lives would make a great soap opera, is not lost on Utt and Tullock. They take the dysfunction of their oddball stage family and draw out both the humor and sorrows of being too up close and personal.
The movie assembles a solid supporting cast, which includes Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”) and Alec Baldwin. But the MVPs here are Utt and Tullock, whose longtime comic pairing (including the series “Disengaged”) has honed their comic timing until every joke in “Before You Know It” sails through the screen and into our hearts.
‘Before You Know It’
Opened August 30 in select cities; opens Friday, September 20, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but probably R for language and sexual content. Running time: 98 minutes.
This review first ran on this site on January 28, when the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.