A key moment happens early in Hannah Pearl Utt's new dramedy Before You Know It. Rachel's (Utt) eccentric playwright and actor father Mel (Mandy Patinkin) sabotages a grant application that would've allowed him to finish his new play, and Rachel loses her patience with the man.
"I don't really care about your stupid fucking play; I just need you to have a life, so that I can have one," she finally tells him in an outburst that's both serious and funny. The dramatic exchange sets the tone for this indie flick about a dysfunctional family struggling to come to terms with a past that its father has hidden from them.
The movie opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
When Mel unexpectedly dies and leaves the theater he owns to a wife he told his daughters was dead, Rachel and her sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) try to sort things out, and in the process, they find out that their mother is still alive. Turns out, their father had lied to Rachel and Jackie for much of their lives about the identity and death of their mother; their mother is really Sherrell (Judith Light), a soap opera star.
Rachel and Jackie sneak onto the set where Sherrell is filming and rather awkwardly introduce themselves without telling her that she's inherited the theater they thought would be theirs. In a rather predictable fashion, the movie proceeds toward an ending in which Jackie and Rachel must confess to Sherrell that she owns the theater they thought their father would leave them. Though they inherit a good deal of debt (another thing their father hid from them), the daughters hope to stage their father's final play there before losing control of the place.
While the movie proceeds at a snail's pace, it does have some terrific moments that suggest Utt's talent as a writer.
In one funny scene, Jackie's daughter Doge (Oona Yaffe) attends a therapy session that doesn't go very smoothly. When she begins fiddling with an ornament on the coffee table, the therapist (Alec Baldwin) cringes and stops her, saying, "That's decorative. It's from the 1920s. I don't think it would be fun to play with anyway."
In another scene, after Rachel rewrites one too many of Sherrell's scenes in her soap opera, Sherrell tells the women that the show's writers have decided to put her character into a coma. "That's how they kill you off," says Sherrell.
Before You Know It isn't likely to draw a big audience, but it does establish Utt as an indie filmmaker to watch.