In PJ Raval’s moving documentary Before You Know It, three aging gay men navigate their lives’ third acts, and find that the setting of the story continues to shift.
Each has overcome obstacles to living openly: Two of the subjects, Dennis and Ty, are veterans of the armed forces, while Robert, who owns a raucous drag bar in Galveston, Texas, was raised the son of a Baptist deacon. But as Ty remarks, “History is changing so rapidly.” Indeed, as Raval follows Ty’s efforts as a community liaison to LGBT seniors in Harlem, the New York State Legislature debates, and finally passes, the Marriage Equality Act.
Raval’s unobtrusive camerawork makes it easy to fall in love with these three. Their stories are often melancholy — on a gay cruise, soft-spoken Dennis struggles to connect with younger passengers, and more than once, the subjects’ eyes stray awkwardly to Raval’s lens, gentle reminders of the camera’s invasiveness. But Raval never lets the film become didactic or sappily emotional, instead honoring his subjects’ varying approaches to family, money, and finding a safe space in a changing world. And what a beautiful world it can be: In one scene, two drag queens saunter down the streets of Galveston, beatifically conferring Mardi Gras beads on passersby to the strains of a Puccini aria. Robert watches the festivities from his porch, a characteristic cackle of mirth interrupting his reverie.
Before You Know It is a chronicle of the challenges facing an aging portion of the population, but it doubles as something more universal: a means of cutting through isolation and societal expectation, and finding a stronger self on the other side.