Before I Fall (2017) Open Road/Drama-Mystery RT: 99 minutes Rated PG-13 (mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images and language-all involving teens) Director: Ry Russo-Young Screenplay: Maria Maggenti Music: Adam Taylor Cinematography: Michael Fimognari Release date: March 3, 2017 (US) Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Cynthy Wu, Medalion Rahimi, Elena Kampouris, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals, Erica Tremblay, Nicholas Lea, Liv Hewson, Diego Boneta.
Before I Fall is Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day minus the laughs. In it, a mean girl is forced to relive the same day over and over again until she gets it right. Initially, I wasn’t all that impressed. I had my reasons for not liking it but I won’t list them because I’ve had a change of heart about Before I Fall. Hey, I’m allowed to do that! You want me to be honest, right? Okay then.
One of the major factors behind my about-face is that the movie, an adaptation of the popular YA novel by Lauren Oliver, doesn’t take place in some dystopian future world. Also, it doesn’t involve teens killing each other with arrows, knives and guns. In Before I Fall, the teens hurt each other with words. The violence is strictly the psychological kind. Both of these things go in the plus column.
The movie’s greatest strength is Zoey Deutch, an appealing young actress on the brink of stardom. You may remember her from last year’s Everybody Wants Some!! She was also in Dirty Grandpa and Why Him? She was the best thing about both of those movies. Before I Fall is Zoey’s first starring role and she does a great job of it. Now we know beyond any doubt she has what it takes to carry a movie.
Zoey plays high school senior Sam, a mean girl who’s about to experience the weirdest day of her life…. over and over again. It starts out like any other day. She wakes up at 6:30am, gets dressed, ignores her parents, yells at her little sister and rides to school with her tight-knit group of friends- queen B Lindsay (Sage, Paper Towns), wild girl Elody (Rahimi, Extraction) and smart ass Ally (Wu, Twisted). It’s Cupid Day meaning that the most popular students receive roses from friends and admirers while less popular kids get zilch. Sam plans to lose her virginity that night to her boyfriend Rob (Lawley, The Chosen), a popular jock who acts just like any other popular high school boy- i.e. he’s a major d-bag. She’s so invested in this guy that she blows off Kent (Miller, A Dog’s Purpose), a dorky classmate with an obvious crush on her. We find out later they were childhood friends who drifted apart when Sam started hanging out with Lindsay.
An incident occurs later that night at an unsupervised party at Kent’s house. An unpopular girl named Juliet (Kampouris, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) shows up uninvited. Lindsay hates this girl, an artistic type with unkempt hair and wild eyes, with a passion and never misses a chance to bully or harass her. She and the girls call her names like “psycho” and “Norma Bates”. That day, they played a vicious prank on Juliet and she shows up to finally have it out with Lindsay and the others. The confrontation ends with many guests throwing cups of beer at Juliet who runs off into the night. On the way home from the party, the girls get into a car accident. Their vehicle flips over and several times. A moment later, Sam wakes up in her own bed. It doesn’t sink in right away but it’s yesterday all over again. After periods of denial, anger and rebellion, she realizes that she has to change some things about herself before she can change the outcome of the day and make tomorrow (the real tomorrow) come.
Here’s where Before I Fall gets really interesting. Sam gets many chances to make a complete character transformation so she can prevent a tragic event. Nobody, at least not in the real world, gets an opportunity like this. Before she can move forward, she has to mend relationships, repair the damage she’s done to others and deepen connections with her friends. In one of the movie’s nicest parts, she spends one of the days just hanging out with her little sister (Tremblay, The Bye Bye Man). It never feels insincere nor does it get too cloying. Zoey makes you care about her character and her fate by giving Sam actual depth. In fact, many of the teen characters in Before I Fall have depth. Take Lindsay. We find out there are reasons for her bitchy behavior and ill treatment of Juliet that extend beyond being mean for the sake of being mean. You don’t often see this in teen movies.
Before I Fall is darker and more serious-minded than most YA movies. It definitely has more substance than movies like Divergent, The 5th Wave and Twilight. It’s a moody piece with misty cinematography and dramatic stakes higher than the average teen movie. Sure, it can be argued that all of these YA movies have life-or-death scenarios but Before I Fall treats it more seriously. It doesn’t over-villainize the mean girls or make the misfits too nerdy. It understands the psycho-emotional minefield that is high school and the landscape of the teenage girl’s mind. It helps that the author, screenwriter (Maria Maggenti) and director (Ry Russo-Young) are all women. Before I Fall has many strong points. It also has a few flaws. It drags a bit here and there, it feels redundant at times and there’s a degree of predictability. Consider the title, it can only end one way. Still, it’s an engaging movie. It’s worth the price of a matinee ticket.