by Rebecca M. Alvin

Director Hannah Pearl Utt’s new film Before You Know It opens with her character, Rachel Gurner coming to the end of a date with a woman she seems to really like. But when they get to her doorstep and we learn that Gruner lives upstairs from a theater with her father, sister, and neice, the date ends abruptly and we are immediately aware of the tensions around living an independent single life while you’re still closely tied to your family, which is the theme of the film.

Rachel’s father, played by Mandy Patinkin, is an eccentric playwright who has raised her and her sister Jackie (Jen Tullock), an actress, by himself, supposedly after the death of their mother. Jackie also has a daughter, the gender nonconforming preteen Dodge (Oona Yaffe). After unexpected tragedy, the sisters learn that their mother (Judith Light) is actually alive and well and the star of a popular television soap opera. Naturally, they set out to meet her, especially when it comes to light that she plays an important role in their future financial stability.

Before You Know It was a hit at Sundance and for good reason. The film, co-written by Utt and Tullock, explores the interrelationships within this chaotic family and how each person struggles to maintain her identity while still remaining connected to each other. It’s a rare entirely female-driven story and one that is extremely well written, entertaining, funny, and poignant at times. The relationship that is the heart of the movie is that between sisters Jackie and Rachel, two diametrically opposed personalities who nonetheless love each other dearly, even as they often don’t understand one another. Jackie is endearingly flighty and funny, making Rachel appear even more hyper-responsible and level-headed than she actually is.

Light, who of course knows first hand what it is to be a soap opera star, turns in a wonderful performance as a woman who has had to make peace with her decisions, but who now must struggle to explain herself to the grown children she left behind. Meanwhile, Yaffe, a newcomer, adds another level with her awkward preteen Dodge, who has to cope with puberty and all that comes with it in a world where the adults are busy having their own identity crises.

Before You Know It screens at various times, October 14 – 20, at Waters Edge Cinema, 237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl. For showtimes, tickets, and information call 508.413.9369 or visit provincetownfilm.org/cinema.