The premise of Before I Fall is basically Groundhog Day. Four girls relive the same day over an over, but only one of them can recall the day ever happening. At 12:39 A.M. they all die in a car accident, and the day resets. Zoey Deutch’s Samantha sets out to solve how to break the endless loop and learns something about herself in the process.
Before I Fall is one of those films aimed squarely at teenagers. The first act pulses to the beat of current popular music and the audience gets a sense of the four girls. Samantha is part of a group similar to Mean Girls’ plastics. They’re rich, popular, pretty, and horrible people. It culminates when they go to a raging party and bully the “weird girl” from school until she runs into the woods. It’s a heightened version of teendom, but it’s a relatable one. As a matter of fact, the events of the day are so mundane that one wonders how the repetition of each day won’t become rote.
Fortunately, director Russo-Young continually finds new and interesting ways to frame the action. Samantha’s growing realization that she is reliving the same day gives way to a dread-filled tracking shot at the party. As she falls into complacency with her existence, the audience is treated to a montage of the various ways Samantha wakes up each morning. As the film progresses, the energy of the day becomes a weariness with the repetition. The pacing of the film is good, but it falls into a consistent rhythm rather than a frantic dash by the end. The rhythm serves the story and shows that Before I Fall has something on its mind.
That thing, is optimism. The ultimate takeaway from the movie is that earnestness leads to selflessness. But, earnestness must comes from discipline. By living the same day over and over, Samantha realizes that it’s no different from her prior life. Each day bled into the last, but with the guarantee of repitions, she finds freedom to live her life the way she wants. Ultimately, she settles on putting others first. That is not a bad lesson, but optimism requires a deft hand at the pen and behind the camera. The technical skill to make the optimism not feel like Oprah’s book club is not on display in Before I Fall.
However, Zoey Deutch picks up the slack where the script fails. She brings an effortless likability to Samantha. The rest of her cohorts do the best they can with what their given. Unfortunately, what their given is fairly shallow. It is by design, but those characters never grow or show anything but their ugly side. It would have been nice to get some more out of them as they all appear to be capable young actresses.
When it’s all said and done, Before I Fall kind of works. It isn’t going to stick in people’s memories for long. And the saccharine optimism of the third act feels a little like an after school special. But, it keeps the trend of films like Edge of Seventeen and Nerve by being better than expected films about teenagers that never feels like it’s talking down to them. Teenage audiences can do a lot worse than Before I Fall.
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