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Reviews for August 30th, 2019

Before You Know It

Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt

      Rachel Gurner (Hannah Pearl Utt) and her sister, Jackie (Jen Tullock), discover that their mother isn't dead like their father, Mel (Mandy Patinkin), a playwright, had told them all along. They only learned that after Mel dies of a heart attack. Their mother is actually Sherrell Gearhardt (Judith Light), a soap opera actress. Rachel and Jackie trespass into a soap opera studio to confront their mother.

    Before You Know It is a tragicomedy that doesn't quite work as as a comedy because the screenplay by writer/director Hannah Pearl Utt and co-writer Jen Tullock tries too hard to be funny, but the comedic attempts fall flat more often than not. There are a few witty lines and quips that generate some laughter, though, and it's amusing to watch some of the screwball moments, i.e. when a director confuses Rachel for an actress auditioning for a role or when she and Jackie are confused for background actors when they try to infiltrate Sherrell's latest soap opera. There's a lot of tragedy beneath the surface that the screenplay doesn't explore deeply enough. The story is fundamentally about adult children of a narcissistic mother and father who are at a turning point in their lives. When their toxic father dies, they reunite with their toxic mother who seems like she wants to be their best friend more than actual parent. Jackie is at risk of becoming just a bad of parents to her 12-year-old daughter, Dodge (Oona Yaffe), who sits down to tell Jackie flat out that she's not a good parent. At least it's clear that Jackie's poor parenting skills aren't her fault because she and Rachel didn't have good parents to look up to growing up. Perhaps Sherrell had toxic relationship with her own mother and father as well which she has yet to overcome. That would explain why she's such terrible parent to Rachel and Jackie, and probably won't ever really change unless she's brutally honest with herself about her traumatic past, shows signs of accountability and responsibility for how she hurt her daughters emotionally and psychologically.

    It's worth commending the screenwriters for writing such complex roles for women which is quite rare these days. They're all flawed, insecure human beings who strive and deserve to be happy, but they're stuck in the toxic environment of their narcissistic family. Did Rachel and Jackie stop to consider how Sherrell might feel when they show up unexpectedly to confront her at her workplace of all places? They lack empathy and have boundary issues, much like their mother and father. They have every right to feel sad, angry and frustrated like all human beings do, sp it's too bad that the filmmakers only let them exhibit those human emotions every once in a while. These characters need someone to talk to who can guide them through their complicated emotions and love them unconditionally. At least Dodge sees a therapist, Peter (Alec Baldwin), although who seems to have issues of his own that he hasn't dealt with, so she probably needs a better therapist. Rachel, Jackie and Sherrell might be able to use some therapy as well to sort out their deeply-rooted psychological issues. If only Maude could help all of them embrace life and navigate through it like she helped Harold do in Harold and Maude.

      Ultimately, at a running time of 98 minutes, Before You Know It bites off much more than it could chew, so it feels simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked with a third act the feels rushed and an ending that's somewhat abrupt. If only the filmmakers were to focus more on the dramatic and tragic elements of the film instead of sugar-coating the darker elements with too many attempts at comedy, the film wouldn't often feel as though it were a shallow pilot for a TV show. The performances are captivating and genuinely heartfelt, especially when it comes to Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock, Judith Light and Oonah Yaffe. They rise well above the screenplay's shortcomings.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by 1091.
Opens at Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema.

Official Secrets

Directed by Gavin Hood


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at IFC Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

Tod@s Caen

Directed by Ariel Winograd

      Adán (Omar Chaparro), an architect, thinks he knows best how to seduce women. His good friend, Toby (Mauricio Barrientos), listens to his advice when he tries to hit on a women at a supermarket and a bar. Adán puts his advice to the test when he meets Mia (Martha Higareda), a TV producer who has her own set of rules when it comes to the dating game. She wants to host a TV show called "Todos Caen" and must prove that her advice works by seducing Adán and getting him to change his Facebook status to "In a relationship."

      Tod@s Caen is a delightful, smart and funny battle of the sexes. The screenplay by Cory Brusseau and Martha Higareda combines comedy and romance in a way that pays homage to the classic screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age like Bringing Up Baby and Adam's Rib. Adán and Mia even break the fourth wall by talking to the camera like Alfie does in Lewis Gilbert's Alfie. There's plenty of banter between Adán and Mia, pop cultural references and comedy of error that will leave you in stitches. The humor, unlike that the juvenile humor in too many modern comedies, is very witty and zany without appealing to the lowest common denominator---with the exception of a brief scene involving vomit, but it manages to be still be funny and even oddly touching in a way that won't be spoiled here. Mauricio Barrientos provides the most laughs and has terrific comedic timing, although every actor, both male and female, gets a chance to shine here. Omar Chaparro and Martha Higareda have as much onscreen chemistry together as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy do in Adam's Rib or Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant do in Bringing Up Baby. They're charismatic leads who help to make both Adán and Mia worth rooting for and, more importantly, relating to.

      Beneath Tod@s Caen's comedy, there's a warm, beating heart, a mind and a soul. Brusseau and Higareda deserve to be commended for writing a strong role for women and sending a positive, empowering message to audiences because he allows Mia to be a human being onscreen. She's fragile and fallible, yet smart, tough and brave, especially for her emotional honesty in the third act. She's a wonderful role model which is something that younger generation need, but don't have enough of in cinema these days. If you're sick of the gross-out humor of Good Boys and Girls Trip or the schmaltz of Nicholas Sparks movies, you'll be pleasantly surprised that Tod@s Caen wisely avoids all of those pitfalls. It's sweet without being saccharine and smart without being preachy. It's also smarter and funnier than Isn't it Romantic?. Prepare yourself for the best romantic comedy since Love Actually. It deserves to be become a cult classic and to be seen on the big screen with a large crowd. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a mid-credits scene.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Pantelion Films.
Opens nationwide.
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