Movies

Before You Know It succeeds in its smaller moments

Slight and overly whimsical but not without its charms, Before You Know It tells the story of two very different sisters who must deal with the death of one parent, and the subsequent news that the other, whom they thought dead, is still alive.

Director and co-writer Hannah Pearl Utt plays Rachel, the responsible one, swooping into action when their father (Mandy Patinkin) drops dead during rehearsals for a new play they’re working on. (In a quirk that’s hardly surprising from a film that premiered at Sundance, the family lives over a dilapidated playhouse.)

But with the reading of the will comes the news that their mother, Sherrell (Judith Light), is alive and acting in a soap opera. Jackie, the irresponsible one played by co-writer Jen Tullock, impulsively sneaks into the TV studio to see her up close, then blurts out the nature of their relationship.

What follows is a delicate, sometimes funny dance as the adult kids try to navigate their relationship with the mother they never knew, curious (but never daring to ask) why she’s never been part of their lives. Complicating matters, Jackie has her own daughter (Oona Yaffe), though she seems more intent on finding a new man than being a parent.

The movie frays the farther it strays from the central story. A potential love interest with his own young daughter never quite feels like part of the plot, while a “co-starring” turn by Alec Baldwin consists of two short scenes; one senses the filmmakers got a day with him and weren’t sure what to do with it, but didn’t want to turn down the opportunity.

But Before You Know It succeeds in its smaller moments. The bond between the sisters feels particularly real, no doubt helped by the fact that the co-stars are also long-term creative partners. And as they try to cast an actor to replace their father in their play, the street outside their theatre fills with wandering Patinkin look-alikes. That image alone is almost worth the price of admission.

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