Directed by: Ry Russo-Young
Premise: Based on the novel by Lauren Oliver. Following a car accident, a high school student (Zoey Deutch) is stuck in a time loop and relives the same day over and over again. With each incarnation she gradually comes to see herself and the people around her in a new light.
What Works: Before I Fall has a strong cast with Zoey Deutch in the lead role and Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi, and Cynthy Wu as her crew of friends. The core cast are well paired with their roles and they form an organic group. Each of them is distinguished as individual characters but just as importantly they operate as a convincing unit of teenage female friends. Halston Sage is the alpha, a Regina George-type who passive aggressively enforces her dominance while the others curry favor with her. Even though it takes place in a very privileged community, Before I Fall manages to have a few real moments in it. The teenage angst has an authentic feel, the movie captures the dramatic intensity of high school, and there are some tangible stakes in the drama. Before I Fall is also craftily made. Director Ry Russo-Young and editor Joe Landauer do an effective job of revisiting the same scenarios in ways that streamline the action and keep the material fresh in each iteration.
What Doesn’t: Before I Fall is a reworking of Groundhog Day by way of Mean Girls. It’s entirely derivative but made worse by a series of mistakes and miscalculations. The film includes narration by the main character that is unnecessary and frequently insipid. Samantha’s internal monologue says nothing interesting and the narration just points out the obvious. This diminishes the power of the imagery. For that matter, the lead character of Before I Fall is not especially interesting. That isn’t the fault of Zoey Deutch who is a good actress and an agreeable screen presence. The problem is the writing. Samantha doesn’t really do anything. She is a passive protagonist. Since Samantha is trapped in this time loop for the purpose of righting a wrong, it is incumbent upon her to be an active part of the action, identifying the wrong and fixing it. But the revelations present themselves to her instead of coming to light because of Samantha’s efforts. Before I Fall also fails to take advantage of its scenario the way that Groundhog Day did. In that film, Bill Murray’s character explored the possibilities of living a life with no consequences and that led to some funny and audacious moments. In Before I Fall, the best the character can come up with is wearing a sexy dress to school. This could have led to some interesting places since one of the motifs of Before I Fall is Samantha’s plan to have sex for the first time and there is a brief moment in which she flexes the power of her sexuality by challenging a male teacher. But the filmmakers don’t follow this anywhere. That’s part of a larger problem in Before I Fall. This film puts its main character is a peculiar predicament that forces her to examine her life but the movie does not reveal very much. Any time Before I Fall approaches something interesting or subversive, the filmmakers walk it back. Much of the picture involves Samantha realizing that she and her crew of friends are terrible people who bully weak and emotionally fragile students. But in the end the filmmakers try to have it both ways. Samantha attempts to reconcile with an alienated student (Elena Kampouris) but she also keeps her circle of poisonous friends intact even though they are going to go on being horrible. This milquetoast approach results in an ending that doesn’t actually resolve anything. The finale of Before I Fall is a vague cop out. All of the drama is ultimately for nothing and not in a deliberately nihilistic way but in a vacuous and pretentious waste of storytelling.
Bottom Line: There is some good stuff in Before I Fall but the moviemakers lose their nerve and do not pursue the most compelling parts of the material. What could be an interesting take on adolescence is a compromised rip-off of Groundhog Day that misses what made Harold Ramis’ movie so special.
Episode: #639 (March 19, 2017)