Before You Know It

Before You Know It (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 13) starts out badly. No, let’s be honest: it starts out disastrously, with its opening credits (oddly led by the film’s production crew and followed by its cast, in a reverse of convention) accompanied by a truly horrendous song, the title and performer of which thankfully continue to evade me.

Happily, things begin to improve after that — but those first five minutes hang heavy over the remaining 90. It’s a shame, really, because writer-director Hannah Pearl Utt and her co-scenarist Jen Tullock seem like a pair of promising young storytellers.

Not satisfied with staying behind the camera, Tullock and Utt also appear in front of it as Jackie and Rachel, two sisters living with their playwright father Mel (the wonderful Mandy Patinkin, in the film’s most memorable casting coup) above the theater he’s owned and operated for decades in — where else? — Greenwich Village. Mel has been coasting on the success of a long ago Broadway production of  “A Doll’s House,” but times have not been kind and he’s deep in debt.

When Mel dies unexpectedly, the sisters discover he’s left the building to a mystery woman named Sherrell Gearhardt. To their shock and surprise, soap opera star Sherrell (Daytime Emmy winner and real-life “Doll’s House” alum Judith Light) turns out to their “late” mother, who supposedly passed when they were toddlers.

Before You Know It was produced with the support of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, and it shows. The film bears many of the hallmarks of the stereotypical American indie: overcooked arch dialog, awkward attempts at social relevance, and — worst of all — the inevitable, unwanted Alec Baldwin cameo appearance intended to improve its already questionable box-office chances.

That said, Tullock and Utt’s film slowly grew on me: there’s an underlying honesty in their narrative that can’t be faked; Tullock is memorable as itchy, twitchy Jackie, while Utt is fine as the demure Rachel. This isn’t a film that’s going to win any awards — heck, you’ll probably forget about it within a week or two — but it’s a decent effort from a pair of up and comers.

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

Speaking of forgetting things, my memories of political pundit Molly Ivins faded some time ago. Happily, they’ve been reinvigorated by Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, opening on Friday at Landmark’s California Theatre.

Ivins was a hell-raising liberal who grew up in Texas at a time when ladies were supposed to keep quiet, raise the children, and never talk politics. Raise Hell documents her life from her days at Smith College and her time running the New York Times’ one person Denver bureau to her long-running stint enraging conservative readers at the Dallas Time Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

It’s now de rigueur to use the word “liberal” as a pejorative, but in Ivins’ time some liberals actually stuck to their principles: perhaps the most memorable moment in Raising Hell is footage of her expressing disgust for Bill Clinton upon passage of his Welfare Reform Bill. If any pundit today declared their intention to withhold her vote as a consequence of actions taken by a Democratic president, they’d be instantly consigned to the Susan Sarandon-Jill Stein burning pit of Hell by the enraged Twitter hordes. We may miss her, but I have a feeling Molly wouldn’t particularly miss us or the times we live in.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...