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Playing with time as means to correct a character’s more troublesome traits is no new trick, with the most obvious and most influential of the bunch being Bill Murray‘s Groundhog Day (1993). Still, a few films play on the theme to degrees of success, though few have found the same Midas touch of Murray’s classic. With this latest iteration, we visit some familiar themes, and while it’s a far darker experience, there’s no escaping the parallels, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, just not so inspiring, even if it does a lot of it right.
We meet Samantha (Zoey Deutch), a high school girl, attractive, living a well-to-do life, with want for nothing, a hugely popular girl with a band of close friends in similar style. There’s Lindsay (Halston Sage), the de facto leader of the group, and Ally (Cynthy Wu), and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), all whom have tremendous entitlement issues and are, as is typical for the genre, essentially the mean girls. It’s Cupid’s Day at their school and naturally the beautiful girls are adorned with advances, though Samantha is looking to make the most of the day, ready to lose her virginity to boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) at the senior party being held at her former childhood friend, Kent’s (Logan Miller) house.
Packed as such parties are in movies, in comes Juliet (Elena Kampouris), a disheveled girl who has long been the target of derision from the girls who, of all nights, decides this is the one where she’s going to speak her peace. A confrontation spoils the evening, but not quite so badly as the ride home, where a horrific car accident seems to kill the carload of girls, though before it’s over, Samantha finds herself waking up alive and well in her bed in the morning. This morning. Cupid’s Day. She’s gone back in time one day. And when it all happens again and she wakes up one more time, she realizes she is caught in a loop, reliving the same day over and over. So now, what can she do with all this time?
Directed by Ry Russo-Young, Before I Fall is a bit of conformist, at least in many respects, ticking off a number of teen film tropes, including a bevy of astonishingly good looking people, a school full of stereotypes, and a soundtrack stuffed with alt-pop tracks. Themes of bullying and having sex top the list, with the latter a pretty dominate slice of the action as the girls primp and prod and prepare Samantha for her much-anticipated deflowering, including finding the right look and, keeping responsible, a quick birth control tip. It’s all purposefully amplified for effect, and honestly, it kinda works. To serve the story as it does, these stretches of reality are necessary in helping to illustrate the behaviors Samantha needs to reshape if she’s to understand her predicament.
And this is where Before I Fall finds it best footing, as Samantha is not what is expected. Given no real redeeming qualities from the start, she’s a real piece of work out of the box, a bully that lacks the typical good-girl only trying to fit in stereotype of many in the genre who from the beginning are never comfortable with being part of the bratty popular girls clique. This makes her path to redemption all the more impactful, as she attempts to make sense of why this is happening, the behavior not the first thing that comes to mind. And it’s not just Juliet who has been the target of her and her friends ire, and with whom she needs to make amends. She’s got trouble at home, and uses her time now to rebuild her relationships with her mother (Jennifer Beals) and her younger sister, with whom things are not well.
Before I Fall has a number of issues, including a tiresome use of narration and a some questionable casting choices, but is still a much better film than it might seem. As Samantha is basically reincarnated every day, the film has an esoteric spiritual feel to it, but is far from preachy. In fact, it has some genuine moments that find the right mark, with Deutch doing some fine work as a young women facing some troubling personal hurdles. A solid anti-bullying message, though one that’s not steering in any new direction, it nonetheless elevates above the teen genre and does its ending just right.
Movie description: Before I Fall is a 2017 drama about a young woman who learns today is her last day alive when she begins to relive the same day over and over after dying at the end every time.
Director(s): Ry Russo-Young
Actor(s): Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu