Before / During / After is an intimate drama starring actress Finnerty Steeves, who also wrote the story. It follows her character Jennie, a middle-aged theatre actress who catches her husband cheating and finds herself struggling to figure out what that means for her future. Jennie is reasonably successful playing characters on the stage but now has to figure out who she actually is again. Steeves is excellent and brings a tremendous amount of character to her role.
It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times onscreen and in real life (not just in celebrity spheres but in our own lives). But oftentimes films take the subject matter of divorce and separation and either try to go too funny or too serious. Before / During / After treats the tumultuous experience with the respect it deserves while finding sweet, but silly, moments in Jennie’s healing. It’s a lovely movie with a lot to say, all of it very human. Her ex-husband, David (Jeremy Davidson), clearly wrongs her, but the movie goes to great lengths to explain what she saw in him and why she has trouble letting go of their marriage and the person she had hoped to become.
As the two start to explore the realm of divorce, Jennie and David run through a number of counselors who simply don’t have the right understanding of their situation. There isn’t a sense that the story is giving pat, pretty answers to Jennie’s plight, and it’s a relief. The tension doesn’t come from the presence of a mistress or the incongruity of their lives as they hit 40; it comes from hoping Jennie can find a new life for herself. It’s very genuine. The moments of humor are natural and unforced.
There is no doubt that Steeves writing her own script contributed to the fullness of the character she portrays. Jennie is by no means perfect, and the script takes a thoughtful look at how to take measure of your life at the age of 40 and not hold your past against yourself for imagined inadequacies. Starting over is difficult at any age, particularly when it happens without any warning.
Structurally, Before / During / After succeeds at using a time-jump structure that other movies, particularly small-budget movies, often fail to properly convey. It does so by grounding each flash into the past, present or future in continuous emotion from scene to scene. There’s nothing too clever about its attempts at telling a story across three timetables: It’s all in service of Jennie and her life with David. This is a big-hearted, focused and, above all, kind film that captures the totality of Jennie’s experience in a way few other movies tackling this subject matter have the patience to do.