Friday, October 16, 2020

Movie Review: "before/during/after" (2020)

Movie poster for the 2020 film "before/during/after," starring Finnerty Steeves, Jeremy Davidson, Richard Masur, Marin Hinkle, Miriam Shor, Kate Burton, and Deirdre O'Connell
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Director: Stephen Kunken and Jack Lewars
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

We all have our own ways of dealing with the difficult circumstances life throws at us. Many people turn to professional help from counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to discover different coping techniques, from simply reflecting on the good times you've had in life, up to and including role-playing your way through your problems. When you're an actor, however, you get a unique opportunity to really take 'role-playing through your problems' to the next level. "before/during/after" (2020) feels like writer/producer/star Finnerty Steeves's therapy through her art. Without even knowing the details of her personal life, we could tell right away that this project hit close to home for her. A quick Google search will tell you this film is very much a reflection of how her real-life 15-year marriage came to an end. In an interview with, Steeves discusses what went wrong in her actual relationship, much of which is shown on-screen, verbatim, in "before/during/after" (2020). Though this movie is directed by Stephen Kunken and Jack Lewars, we have a hunch they didn't take much artistic license beyond the initial script because it feels like they let it remain mostly (if not entirely) Steeves' story.

Photo: Finnerty Steeves and Jeremy Davidson look at greeting cards in the 2020 indie movie "before/during/after."
Photo: Finnerty Steeves and Jeremy Davidson look at greeting cards in the 2020 indie movie "before/during/after." (Image provided by the San Diego International Film Festival)
"before/during/after" (2020) is billed as a dramedy, though it leans into the drama more than the comedy. It's not the kind of movie that's full of the grandiose, over-the-top blowouts full of screaming and namecalling, you know, the one we've become accustomed to seeing in "soured relationship" movies (looking at you, "Marriage Story"). It's more of a "stoic reflection" type of drama as we watch actress Jennie (Finnerty Steeves) and her husband David (Jeremy Davidson) try to salvage what's left of their broken kinship. There are a couple of big, gut-punching emotional scenes, but where this film thrives is in its quietly pointed moments of absolute devastation as Jennie and David desperately try to save what has been shattered by infidelity, unaddressed needs, and a long-term lack of communication. While they reminisce about their happiest memories together, discuss "the other woman," and attend a revolving door of counseling sessions that would be enough to make the strongest couples fold, they come to the realization that they have always wanted very different things and had very different expectations for their marriage.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. There are several hilarious scenes in "before/during/after" (2020). But, even with the wacky couples therapists, a raunchy night out for Jennie and her girlfriends, and a trip to a pleasure palace for a vibrator "for her friend's bachelorette party," the story never feel phony or unrealistic. It's not a complex narrative full of crazy twists and turns. There are no grand romantic gestures or artificial Hollywood resolutions. It's merely a raw, relatable slice of one woman's life as she comes to terms with ending the relationship she's been in for nearly half of her existence. Finnerty Steeves acts the pants off of her part, but now that we know it's based on her real-life relationship, we're not surprised she nailed it.

On a technical note, we will admit the first portion of the film does aimlessly wander here and there. This is likely because the first few acts are told through a series of flashbacks as we watch Jennie relive the memories of her relationship during an audition for a part that's a little on the nose. Some viewers won't like that it's occasionally choppy, and while it didn't bother us too much, it did slow down the pacing just a skosh.
Photo: Jeremy Davidson, Finnerty Steeves, and Richard Masur star in "before/during/after" (2020)
Photo: Jeremy Davidson, Finnerty Steeves, and Richard Masur star in "before/during/after" (2020). (Image provided by the San Diego International Film Festival)
"before/during/after" (2020) might not be the best film to watch if you're in a bad place in your marriage, but it's definitely worth checking out. We both liked this movie and thought it was engaging, though I liked it a bit more than BigJ did. He felt like it was missing an emotional spark. On the other hand, I was either consistently laughing or silently crying throughout its runtime.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~9.4/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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