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An Introspective Look at the Non-Mainstream Elderly in 'Before You Know It'

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
June 11, 2014 4:00 PM
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Dennis in 'Before You Know It'

Life incessantly runs its course leaving behind damaged bodies were there was once youthful exuberance, regret where there were hopes, and limited time where there used to be endless possibilities. For those lucky enough to make it to the golden years, the most pivotal necessities are not to be lonely, to feel relevant and appreciated, and to come to terms with their journey and enjoy whatever time remains. This can be said about anyone, but when the added factor of homosexuality comes into play, the promise of wonderful, family-oriented times is not always fulfilled. In PJ Raval’s introspective documentary “Before You Know It” three gay seniors are confronted with the victories and failures that define who they are.

Robert "The Mouth"

Living alone in Florida since his wife past away Dennis, a closeted veteran in his late 70’s, enjoys cross-dressing in secret and searches for romantic companionship. His alter ego “Dee” has never seen the light of day, but unwilling to give up on life yet, Dennis decides to take gay-oriented vacations and spends some time at a retirement home for gay seniors in Portland, Oregon. There, at last, he can be fully himself and even decides to go out into the world wearing the clothes that reflect his once hidden personality.

In Texas, Robert “The Mouth” is a local drag queen legend who owns the Robert LaFitte bar, which also serves as refuge for other individuals pushed away by their families and society in general. When this welcoming space is endangered by a lawsuit, Robert is forced to reconsider his options. The memories of over four decades of love, friendship, and community are too precious to let go of.

Deeply invested in the advancement of the community, Ty, an African American gay activist in his 60’s, works for Sage – a Harlem-based non-profit that supports the elderly LGBT community. When the unimaginable happened and same-sex marriage became legal in New York, Ty is simultaneously overwhelmed with joy and anxious given that his partner is not eager to tie the knot. To make matters even more irritating for him, one of his closest friends is getting married, which makes Ty reconsider the importance of the union both legally and emotionally.

Each one of their experiences as part of the non-mainstream elderly population is absolutely distinct, making for a compelling piece of observational cinema. Their perspectives on their own identities come from living in a time where the world around blatantly rejected them. Misguided by a sense of duty, Dennis felt that being a family man and abiding by the status quo were his only choices. Nevertheless, despite knowing that he will be judged by his age, he has allowed himself to cut ties with those who will never accept him in order to feel liberated from shame. “Dee” can now walk the streets, go to clubs, and even join a parade alongside others just like her.

Ty

Memories are all that remains when beauty is gone, and Robert is conscious of this harsh truth. Even after he is gone, his legacy will live in those he took under his wing and provided with a makeshift family. At his bar, there are no awkward stares or unwelcoming slurs, only laughter and affection between him, his costumers, and the performers. This is home for Robert, a man who prefers mockery to tears even when remembering those who are no longer living. As for Ty, his personal desire to wed doesn’t prevent him from taking in the unbelievable progress that has been achieved. Thinking of his friends that never got the opportunity to see their civil rights fight bear fruit, he feels lucky to have witnessed it in their honor.

With the utmost respect, Raval dives into these men’s lives and rediscovers the strength within them to surpass the voices that were constantly telling them it wasn’t OK to be who they really are. Intermittently uplifting and meditative, “Before You Know It” is a film that invites the viewer to reflect and to perceive life as an ongoing battle for happiness beyond the glossy façade of youth. As years go by and the skin wrinkles, it is always better to strive for those expression lines to represent a meaningful existence rather than hurtful dissatisfaction.

"Before You Know It" is currently playing in N.Y. and open in L.A. on June 13th, 2014.

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