Sundance Review: 'Before You Know It' Marks the Arrival of a New Comedic Voice Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt

Starring Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock and Mandy Patinkin
Sundance Review: 'Before You Know It' Marks the Arrival of a New Comedic Voice Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt
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On paper, the plot of Before You Know It is incredibly camp — after their father dies, a pair of New York sisters discover their building is still owned by their mother, who they thought had died when they were children, but has instead been living in the public eye as a famous soap opera star. In reality, however, Hannah Pearl Utt's Before You Know It uses its storyline as a way to find clever comedy while digging into complex emotions.
 
Utt stars as Rachel, a millennial who can't make time to date because she's stuck taking care of her chaotic family, which includes her zany (but believable) sister Jackie (Jen Tullock), niece Dodge (Oona Yaffe) and patriarch Mel (Mandy Patinkin). They live in the apartment above their poorly attended small theatre in Greenwich Village, and they're all free spirits, save for Rachel, who is punching up her father's scripts when she's not renting out their space to bizarre community groups (an improv troupe full of expectant mothers, for example). When Mel dies suddenly, the future of the theatre and their home is thrown into jeopardy.
 
In reading their will, the sisters discover that their long-dead mother is actually still alive. In what feels like a wacky caper, but never actually crosses the line into campiness, they weasel their way onto the soap opera set and finally start a relationship with their mother.
 
Some will undoubtedly compare Utt to controversial New York dramedians like Woody Allen or Lena Dunham, though Utt's New York story feels more classic, evoking the melancholy comedy of Peter Bogdanovich, Whit Stillman and early Noah Baumbach. It also reminds us of the cultural impact 30 Rock has left — thankfully the behind-the-scenes showbiz shots are never quite as wacky, but the show's blueprints are still here (along with a small role from Alec Baldwin).
 
Before You Know It is both breezy and emotionally complex, offering a steady balance of laughs and contemplation. It's the sort of comedy that has us eager to see what Hannah Pearl Utt does next, though we'll be perfectly content to rewatch this one a few times until then.
 
(Ball & Chain Productions)