There are other films about middle-aged women overcoming the emotional turmoil of their divorce such as Gloria Bell and Enough Said, but Before /During /After has a unique thematic structure and deft balance of lighthearted and soulful moments. The film follows a middle-aged NYC theatre actress named Jennie (Finnerty Steeves, who also writes the sharp-witted script) on an introspective journey after she catches her husband David (Jeremy Davidson, who shades his dishonest character with sympathy and depth) cheating. Jennie is used to digging into the lives of her characters and understanding their emotional motivations, but for the first time, as her marriage circles the drain, she has to learn about what she wants as a person.
Steeves’ structures her enjoyable dramedy with a wistful time device. The story of Jennie and David’s crumbling marriage plays out in flashback during Jennie’s audition for the meta role of a jilted lover mending her broken heart. Her character’s monologues mirror her own turbulent emotional state while dealing with her impending divorce. As Jennie sits before a panel of judgemental auditioners baring her soul and actually living the truth of her character’s circumstances, directors Stephen Kunken and Jack Lewars weave through sunny and difficult moments during Jennie and David’s marriage—from their wedding to their struggles having a child to their fights about his mistress. This mosaic framework allows the heartbreaking scenes to resonate much stronger (and is also reminiscent of the musical The Last Five Years). By showing the budding romance of their relationship directly against the fallout, you get an acute understanding of how time can affect a couple and how drastically people can change.
Films about divorce and separation generally tend to swing the pendulum between serious, Marriage Story-esque drama or zany comedies, but Before / During / After respectfully portrays Jennie’s recovery with both quiet resonance and endearing silliness. There are humorous moments where the couple leapfrog through a series of misguided therapists and Jennie has a girl’s night out with friends, as well as more softly touching ones such as when Jennie and David pick out cards for one another at a store, laughing at their choices. Seeing those sweet moments through the present lens cuts the viewer deep. One of the most admirable aspects of Steeves’ script is that she never villainises David (aided by Davidson’s earnest performance) despite his wrongdoing, and Jennie is not without fault either. Jennie’s gradual discovery of her inner strength is fascinating to watch thanks to Steeve’s bright performance.
It is so fortifying to see a film that not only focuses on a middle-aged female protagonist, but one that prioritises a woman’s career ambitions just as much as her romantic life. Before / During / After is an affecting meditation on broken romantic relationships that advocates the importance of doing what you love and learning to thrive independently. Wielding a poignant time structure that moves like a carousel between joy and sorrow, Steeves’s triumphant comedic drama is a pure delight.
Before/During/After is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the US now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Assistant Editor of Video Librarian and does social media for Passion River Films. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.