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Posts Tagged ‘Mandy Patinkin’

Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

“BEFORE YOU KNOW IT” My rating: B-

98 minutes | No MPAA rating

A family comedy with just enough edge, “Before You Know It” is the creation of Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock, who co-wrote the script and star as mutually exasperated sisters.

In addition, Utt directed.

The end results aren’t earth-shaking, but there’s a good deal of talent on display.

As she approaches 30 Rachel Gruner (Utt) still hasn’t had a chance to discover herself…she’s got a full-time job being the only grownup in a household where delusion reigns.

Her widowed father, playwright/actor Mel Gruner (Mandy Patinkin), is an overgrown child who has spent the last 50 years writing and starring in plays no one sees.  He mounts them in the basement theater of the Greenwich Village building he owns; the family lives upstairs.

Rachel’s older sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) is an always-aspiring actress who spends too much time chasing men to pay much attention to her 12-year-old daughter Dodge (Oona Yaffe).

By default, Rachel runs the family’s struggling theater company and serves as surrogate mother to Dodge, catering to her father’s artistic dreams and ignoring Jackie’s more maddening behavior.

But when Mel suffers a fatal heart attack, Rachel and Jackie discover that the mother they thought died nearly 30 years earlier is still alive. Indeed, she is a soap opera star named Sherrell (Judith Light) who has been paying the mortgage on the theater/apartment all this time. If they want to keep a roof over their heads, the sisters had best reach out to Mama.

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Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac

“LIFE ITSELF” My rating: C-

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Having conquered the world of episodic television with the emotion-wringing family drama “This is Us,”  writer/director Dan Fogelman turns to the big screen with “Life Itself.”

Things don’t go well.

As the title suggests, Fogelman is here attempting nothing less than a God’s-eye view of human lives, all of them entangled — though at first that’s not obvious.  While “This is Us” appeals directly to big laughs and big tears, “Life Itself” is curiously muted, as if we’re observing the characters across vast distances.  Those looking for a good cry will probably leave looking for something to punch.

The film is perversely curious, for Fogelman has given us nothing less than a humanistic, non-violent parody/homage of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” Like that film, “Life Itself” is broken into specific chapters and employs a time-leaping narrative (something with which Fogelman is familiar…see “This is Us”). At one point characters attend a party dressed like John Travolta and Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction’s”  famous dance contest; at least twice in “Life Itself” the movie slows down so that characters can deliver long Tarantino-esque monologues. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson even pops up in an extended cameo so weird it defies description.

So what’s the movie about?  Well, let’s break it down by  chapters.

  • In the opening sequence the bearded, unkempt Will (Oscar Isaac) is getting therapy from a shrink (Annette Bening). We gradually learn that his beloved wife Abby has left him (in flashbacks she’s played by Olivia Wilde).  We see their romantic meeting, their growing love, their relationship with Will’s parents (Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart), their anticipation of the birth of their child. We discover that Will’s therapy was court-mandated after a suicide attempt and a few months in a mental ward. Eventually we discover what happened to Abby.
  • The next segment follows the childhood of Will and Abby’s daughter, Dylan (Olivia Cooke), who is raised by her widowed grandpa and grows up to be a smart/rebellious punk rocker, though tormented by the loss of the parents she never met. (more…)

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