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Comedic Brit flicks have been doing rather well of late (the less said about the myriad mockney East End ‘thrillers’ the better). Like it or loathe it, and there are plenty ascribed to each camp, Four Weddings And A Funeral began the trend in the mid 1990s of small British movies making a big splash across the pond. Followed by pseudo-sequel Notting Hill, scribe Richard Curtis may just have been eclipsed by Nick Hornby whose Fever Pitch had U.S. cinemagoers racing through the multiplex turnstiles (despite most not understanding the strange rules of that quaint little game ‘soccer’), High Fidelity was lyrically adapted by John Cusack and About A Boy struck a chord with all ages. Toss The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Shakespeare In Love and hell, even Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, into the mix and it soon becomes clear that us Brits aren’t half-bad in exporting our feature length ribticklers.

Before You Go (Rental)

Enter Before You Go into the fray. With the esteemed Lewis Gilbert behind the camera, a full seven years after his last film (the rather disappointing Haunted), the octogenarian has come out of self-imposed retirement just to prove he can still cut it. Read on…

Violet Heaney (Patricia Hodge) has died. The first to learn of her peaceful passing is eldest daughter Theresa (Julie Walters), a health supplements advisor. With her lies the responsibility to arrange the funeral and so she sets up base in her mother’s now deserted house to call in her two junior sisters (yet not before secreting a humble metal tin) to share three days together before the final ceremony.

The first to arrive is Mary (Joanne Whalley), a successful doctor in the final throes of an unsuccessful 5 year affair with fellow consultant and married TV medical celebrity Mike Pennington (John Hannah). The second to turn up is youngest daughter and serial stoner Catherine (Victoria Hamilton) amidst a disastrous dalliance with a Spanish restaurant owner.

Once the three are reunited, old rivalries, mutual grievances with their mother and shared childhood experiences are revived, often with explosive emotional effects. Two-timing Mike arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the latest conflagration whereupon Mary imparts that she has begun to apperceive visions of her decidedly deceased mother in her early forties.

Before You Go (Rental)

As the frequency of Mary’s visions and Catherine’s irritation with no news from her Latino lover increase, Theresa’s husband Frank (Tom Wilkinson) joins the throng – and immediately wishes he hadn’t! As Theresa’s business partner, Frank is undergoing a crisis of confidence and wants to change his life. His cherished hope of owning a pub and pulling pints instead of hard selling supplements is at once vetoed by the teetotal Theresa prompting a severe re-evaluation of their relationship.

Mary, becoming increasingly agitated with her mother belittling her from beyond the grave, starts searching for the missing tin and in doing so threatens not only to rediscover a buried piece of her past but also uncover news that will fundamentally affect her relationship with her squabbling siblings…

Director Lewis Gilbert is deftly adept at quirky comedy. Responsible for the excellent Educating Rita and the superb Shirley Valentine, Gilbert has a strong track record in directing women to great acclaim and this movie is no exception. Opting for an evenhanded ensemble approach, all the cast, not solely the female players, are afforded the chance to shine. With very little, if any, plot to plough through over the course of the 90-minute duration, Gilbert relies heavily on bringing the best from his cast which he invariably does.

With Walters’ as the stand out performance, the actors are uniformly accomplished, each able to essay the flawed frailties of one half of a couple in crisis with admirable ease (even with Whalley unable to shake the trace of L.A. languishing in her accent). Patricia Hodge is splendid as the sniping spirit, meting out maternal put-downs with palpable pleasure.

Before You Go (Rental)

Despite the commendable qualities of this comedy drama, it’s difficult to see that it will do the big business enjoyed by its honoured antecedents. Perhaps, for all its cross-cultural themes of the dysfunctional family, this is due to the movie not being quite British enough. The Full Monty, for all the possibilities of being transplanted to, say, Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania, was still very much tied with Sheffield as a manufacturing base. Four Weddings And A Funeral showcased the common experience of marital mishaps from an outsider’s perspective (American Andie McDowell); the terribly English nature of Hugh Grant’s twittering Brit schtick would also cause despair and delight in Notting Hill.

That said, Before You Go is a gloriously gentle look at the in-fighting that goes on in families as the offspring approach later life (something to which I’m sure everyone can relate), serviced by a capable script that is good but not quite good enough to elevate it into achieving greatness.

The image, anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 1.85:1, is bright and sharp. Contrast levels are fine, particularly good in the sepia flashback sequences or capturing the profound blue of the sea against the azure sky, and there’s no hint of colour bleeding. That said, blacks are not deep quite enough and shadow detail is little lacking in the scenes which take place at night. Not outstanding for a recent film by any means but not distracting and not overly disappointing

Before You Go (Rental)

As you might expect Before You Go is a dialogue driven film and therefore the 5.1 mix, a welcome inclusion nonetheless, doesn’t drive the rear channels to any great extent, save for a few bursts of the suitably restrained orchestral score.

Dialogue is always pin sharp from the centre speaker, principally during the frequent on screen arguments. Seeing as overlapping dialogue occurs regularly throughout the movie it would have been nice to detect more channel separation across the front of the soundstage but this doesn’t detract from the overall presentation.

Thankfully this DVD is devoid of tacked-on promotional trailers for a hundred and one flicks that you’re unlikely to want to see. Just the movie’s theatrical trailer is included here as a special feature. Naturally all the biggest laughs are crammed into the trailer’s 60 seconds duration. This might foster the notion that Before You Go is far more of a flat-out comedy than the comedy drama it actually is but if it takes this to get people paying to watch our home grown talent then it’s hard to criticise too sharply.

Before You Go (Rental)
A clutch of well-played comedic characters, a screenplay that’ll hold your interest until the end (despite signposting the tame plot twists well in advance) and unobtrusive direction make Before You Go a worthy watch. Presented on a reasonable disc in terms of audio/visual specs, although to be fair it’s unclear that too many extras will accompany the full retail release, it’s a movie more suited to TV that’s unlikely to alter your world radically but for an evening’s entertainment from your local rental outlet you really can’t go far wrong.