Before You Know It
Directed by PJ Raval. (2014, NR, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 20, 2014
The award-winning documentary Before You Know It chronicles the winter years of three elderly gay men who refuse to go gentle into that good night. Despite failing health and other difficulties, this trio of Stonewall-generation seniors continues to look forward at a time in life when many only look back or don’t look anywhere at all. The film’s unvarnished glimpses into their day-to-day lives may initially strike you as revealing nothing extraordinary, but give it time. The more you become acquainted with these men, the more this movie grows on you. This is the sneaky power of authentic cinema verité. The purer the form, the purer the truths that may be revealed.
Meet Ty, an African-American advocate and activist living in Harlem who is passionately focused on improving the lives of LGBT senior citizens. Ty is in a relationship with an even older man begun relatively late in life, one that he strongly wishes to legitimize once the state of New York legalizes same-sex marriage. Despite his partner’s reluctance to walk down the aisle, Ty stubbornly refuses to relinquish his dream of becoming a December husband one day. Then there’s Robert (the Mouth), the colorful and funny Galveston bar owner blessed with an irresistible joie de vivre. Always attired in a Hawaiian shirt to complement his ever-cheerful smile, the extroverted Robert embodies old-school queerness with the utmost pride. His upbeat attitude seldom flags, even during the toughest of times. And finally, meet Dennis, a sweet-natured but socially isolated 78-year-old widower from the Florida sticks who courageously begins to explore his sexuality and desire to publicly cross-dress with the determination of someone busting out of the closet at long last. The outfit that Dee, his alter ego, chooses to wear on a gay cruise says everything – a floral go-go dress with knee-high, hot pink, vinyl boots. Whatever his gender identification, one thing is clear: The man has balls. You can’t help but feel strong compassion for this brave and dignified individual. If Before You Know It belongs to any one person, it belongs to Dennis.
Unlike many of its more polished and pointed contemporaries, Before You Know It is a documentary without an agenda, gay or otherwise. In the end, the sexual orientation of its subject matter isn’t terribly relevant. The film’s myriad themes – the concept of family without a bloodline, the invisibility of the elderly in a youth-obsessed culture, the ingrained human desire for companionship – are universal. Though the film somewhat veers towards sentimentality in its final reel (cue a Puccini aria or the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”), for the most part it trusts these three men to speak for themselves rather than speaking for them. What they say is something all of us should take to heart, regardless of that number we refer to as our age.
See "Will You Still Love Me When I'm 64?" June 20, for an interview with Raval.