It’s only the second night of the 2019 Maine International Film Festival, and I think I’ve just seen the best picture of the event, maybe of the year.

With “Before You Know It,” we’re introduced to the bright work of two incredible actors and filmmakers, Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock. And it’s about time.

On IndieWire, an online interview show, with the cast on the couch, a principal player, the wonderful Judith Light, Tony- and Emmy-winning actor, is wearing a T-shirt that reads “We’re all growing in the same garden.”

Maybe she knew even then that the slogan speaks volumes for the plot, location and characters in Utt and Tullock’s sparkling debut film, to which Light contributes a major jolt of energy.

The “garden” here is a magical brownstone in New York City’s Greenwich Village that holds a snug, well-kept apartment home for a theatrical family of four: two sisters, Rachel (Utt) and Jackie (Tullock); and Jackie’s pre-teen daughter, Dodge (Oona Yaffe); and, bouncing around off these women, the walls and scenery, widower Mel (the fabulous Mandy Patinkin), who is the owner, lead actor and perpetual playwright who, even with shaky hands and fading brain, is the spirit dog of this establishment.

Mel, we’re told, had a big success on Broadway 50 years ago, before inexplicably dropping to the edges of the Off Broadway theater world.

With the last of his largess, Mel bought this building for the family to live and grow in and added the intimate space that they rent out to pay the bills and, oh yes, to stage all of Mel’s 50 unsuccessful plays.

Rachel is the in-house stage manager and editor for her father’s many plays, a job that requires the emotional stability of a Wall Street money manager and the patience of Melania Trump.

Then there is older sister Jackie, who has been making the rounds as an aspiring performer since her teens, rarely if ever cast in anything. Jackie had an early late-night moment that produced daughter Dodge, who, we know from scene one, will inherit Aunt Rachel’s brains and her grandfather’s chutzpah.

Before you know it, the earth shakes. Mel has a heart attack on stage, a financial gremlin leaps from the will, and the ownership of their home and theater is challenged.

Now things start moving. New and delightful faces and voices appear, and before you know it, the lighting and scenery change.

Enter Sherrell, aka the fabulous Judith Light, as a famous bewigged and shaky star of a decades-long popular soap opera in Manhattan’s soap world. Prepare yourself.

“Before You Know it.” A master class in film making arrives.

As for Utt and Tullock, someone once said, “In every man’s life there is a summer … and a girl.”

This is the summer. Utt and Tullock are the girls.

 

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


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