From Santa Barbara to Sundance, Hannah Pearl Utt is making a name for herself on the silver screen. As a 13-year-old thespian taking part in Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Storybook Theater, Utt was interviewed by the Independent about her love for acting. She told the Independent that she would “definitely not” fall into the traps of Los Angeles and film. (Spoiler alert: Utt now lives in Los Angeles and spends her time directing, writing, and starring in films.) Originally, her dreams involved doing Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. However, during college, a journey that Utt began as a theater major at UCLA and finished with a Bachelor of Arts in “The Intersection Between Performance and Religion with an Emphasis on Metaphor” at NYU’s Gallatin School, she realized “that was never going to happen” and decided to reframe her love for storytelling in the form of short films. A good decision, as several projects and credits later, Utt and frequent collaborator Jen Tullock were able to take their feature-length debut, family comedy Before You Know It, to the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and it is now playing at Santa Barbara theaters.
“Our producer, Mallory Schwartz, went through the Creative Producing Lab at Sundance,” said Utt. “We did their film financing program, Catalyst Women. I did the Director’s Lab, and Jen and I both did the Screenwriters’ Lab.” Utt recalls the amount of practice and procedure involved to bring the film to the festival in January. “And before we knew it, we were shooting blocks away from the restaurants Jen and I were working in when we started writing the script almost a decade earlier.”
The movie, which leans on Utt’s and Tullock’s shrewdness and attention to character quirks, serves as testimony that the offbeat indie film has not yet died since its rise and heyday in the ’90s and early 2000s. Before You Know It never falls into trite caricature and instead embraces the over-theatrics of the sharp-tongued daughter, the somewhat fumbling therapist, and the idiot lawyer. The film stars Utt and Tullock, along with some familiar faces: Judith Light, Mandy Patinkin, Mike Colter, and Alec Baldwin.
“I really lucked out with this cast,” Utt said when asked about acquiring such a level of talent and experience for a debut film. “I was definitely nervous going into working with such seasoned actors, but I also knew that they wouldn’t have signed on if they didn’t believe in the movie — money certainly wasn’t a motivating factor. [Everyone] brought so much insight to their characters and such a spirit of collaboration … my job was just steering the star-powered ship.”
In Before You Know It, this particular ship finds itself moored in beloved Greenwich Village in New York City. The film is set over a few days, after two sisters, played by Utt and Tullock, lose their father (Patinkin) to the throes of theater, gain a mother (Light) once thought to be dead, and enter a whirlwind of soap-opera-worthy family drama. The characters are lovable and the plot snappy, but the film takes its time for its heartfelt moments as well. Utt says the film’s goal is to prove, through its thirty-something-year-old codependent sisters navigating the chaos that descends upon them, that you can come of age at any age. “It’s been my experience with the complicated relationships in my life that where there is love and honesty, there is room for growth. With that in mind, we tried to show that it’s never too late to evolve, so long as you are willing to do the work.”
Charming, effusive, and chock-full of eccentricity, Before You Know It plays between the lines of schmaltzy and self-serious without ever crossing either boundary. As such, the film has been welcomed by Sundance, filmgoers, and critics alike, and the movie finds itself still successfully circulating on the festival circuit. As for Utt, the Santa Barbara theater graduate turned Hollywood multi-talent isn’t done yet, and she still has stories of this vein to tell. “My goal is to promote and support diverse perspectives and authentic stories,” she said. “I think the more our media reflects the varied world we live in, the better off we are as a society.”
4•1•1 | Before You Know It is now showing at the Metropolitan Fiesta 5 (916 State St.). See metrotheatres.com.