BEFORE I FALL
PG-13, 99 mins.
2017, PG-13, 99 mins.
Zoey Deutch as Samantha Kingston / Halston Sage as Lindsay Edgecombe / Elena Kampouris as Juliet Sykes / Logan Miller as Kent McFuller / Cynthy Wu as Ally Harris / Medalion Rahimi as Elody / Jennifer Beals as Mrs. Kingston / Kian Lawley as Rob / Liv Hewson as Anna Cartullo
Directed by Ry Russo-Young / Written by Maria Maggenti, based on the novel by Lauren Oliver
It would be deceptively easy to label BEFORE I FALL as a one note GROUNDHOG DAY rip-off. Based on its premise alone, I can just picture how this young adult drama was pitched to a studio head:
"Imagine the classic 1993 Bill Murray day looping comedy morphed with MEAN GIRLS, but done in a vastly more solemn and macabre manner."
It's enough to
make your skin crawl just thinking about such a hybrid cinematic mishmash.
Now, that preamble doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement for BEFORE I FALL, which is based on the Lauren Oliver 2010 novel of the same name. Yes, its basic hook - that of a young high school girl that is forced by some twisted cosmic power to re-live the same day over and over again - is certainly plagiaristic of the popular aforementioned Harold Ramis directed affair. That, and BEFORE I FALL does seem steeped in some of the clichés and pratfalls that beset far too many young adult dramas these days.
beneath this film's highly derivative facade resides a surprisingly
poignant, observant, and perceptive drama about the trails and
tribulations of teenage girlhood. It
also hones in on themes of personal self-actualization and awakening while
touching on how life and death can fundamentally alter how adolescents -
or people in general - treat one another.
BEFORE I FALL superficially feels like a disposable genre effort,
but it has ample narrative and dramatic tricks up its sleeves that helps
elevate itself above mediocrity.
The film is also
a sensational performance showcase for Zoey Duetch (daughter of her famous
mother Lea Thompson), a vibrant and headstrong young actress that has
demonstrated herself to be terrific in some films (like Richard
Linklater's great, but somewhat forgotten EVERYBODY
WANTS SOME!!) while misused in others (like VAMPIRE
ACADEMY and DIRTY GRANDPA).
She's a bona fide standout in BEFORE I FALL as Sam, a teenage high
school senior that's a quadruple threat: she's gorgeous, popular, smart,
and...well...kind of a bitch. She
spends a majority of her waking social time with her BFF clique, led by
Lindsay (a well cast Halston Sage), a domineering and destructive girl
that'll stop at nothing to verbally tear down any classmate if it means
making herself feel better. Unfortunately,
Lindsay, Sam, and the rest of their posse are aggressively mean spirited
to one particular school outcast in Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who's grubby
appearance and anti-social demeanor makes her a regrettable target of
these hostile minded and utterly self absorbed women.
Sam and company
are very excited to be attending school on February 12 - "Cupid
Day" - as they all realize that their popularity will be reinforced
by the limitless number of roses that they will all get from their
admiring peers. That night
the girls all head out to a lavish house party, which ends on a very nasty
note when Lindsay leads the charge of emotionally and physically accosting
poor Juliet, making her a mockery in front of every schoolmate she has
there. Cruel fate steps in
though, as Sam and her pals are killed when Lindsay's car flips on the car
Cue end credits,
awakens in her bed with the memory of the car crash fully intact.
One thing is completely and disturbingly off, though: She has found
herself whisked back to the morning of Cupid Day and is forced to re-live
the same day...right up until the night of the house party, which once
again concludes on the same car crash that kills her and everyone
else...again. Yet, Sam once
again reawakens in her bed on Cupid Day morning. Distraught and struggling for answers, Sam desperately tries
to cope with the realization that she's hopelessly stuck in a state of day
limbo, doomed to re-live the same one over and over...and over again.
Predictably, she does things that most teens would if they had that
kind of godlike power. Unpredictably,
she does a lot of things that most teens wouldn't.
BEFORE I FALL is
an unusually good looking film in the young adult genre.
Shot with crisp and moody compositions by director Ry Russo Young,
the film is more artfully stylish and evocative that it has any real right
of being. Beyond its visual
novelty, BEFORE I FALL takes great pains to use a premise that, again,
has been done well beforehand and inject some newfound life into it.
Part of the dramatic intrigue in the film is witnessing Sam
acclimatizing to her maddening circumstances and learning the ropes of the
enormous power she's been granted. Initially,
she uses her day looping abilities in self serving ways, like, for
instance, dressing sluttier than normal and even hitting on her handsome
English teacher in front of the entire class.
Later on, Sam begins to learn the error of her social ways and
starts to fully understand how she can use her power to right past wrongs.
In many ways, Sam becomes a more enlightened and compassionate
being towards others as the film progresses.
ultimately what made BEFORE I FALL work for me: It keenly understands the
humiliation of high school life for some and paints its characters - mean
and nice girls alike - with a lot more atypical depth than similar youth
characters in other throwaway high school dramas.
BEFORE I FALL really gets the microcosm of teen girl culture by
neither demonizing Sam and her friends for their hellish acts or propping
them up for instant hero worship. All
of these girls are really vulnerable and frail when it boils right down to
it: They all have displayed capabilities here of being both sweet and kind
while being antagonistic and vile. BEFORE
I FALL begins by painting these girls as semi-broad stereotypes, but as
the story develops there's an honest attempt to get into their respective
headspaces to see what makes them tick.
The assembled cast of actresses here do a thanklessly solid job of
selling their character's easy going chemistry; the film feels lived in
and credible when they all occupy scenes together.
Of course, BEFORE
I FALL is quarterbacked by Deutch, who manages to impart a sensitive
humanity in Sam that makes her a teen protagonist of infinitely more depth
than I was frankly expecting. Her
performance arc is a tricky one, seeing as she has to plausibly relay Sam
as a viscously spiteful girl early on with her friends, but later has to
make her emotional transformation as an agent of positive change feel
wholeheartedly credible. Even
though Sam is caught occupying the same day on an endless repeat cycle,
the film never makes itself feel monotonously repetitive.
I do feel that the script writes itself into a corner in the final
15-20 minutes, during which time it struggles to find adequate closure
while hinting at a spiritual angle revolving around Sam's plight.
By the time the film concludes I felt that thematic subtlety went
out the door, so much so that it becomes obvious and preachy.
Still, BEFORE I
FALL legitimately surprised and engaged me and overcame my extremely low
expectations of it. It's
routinely well acted, well shot, deals with its regurgitated GROUNDHOG DAY
set-up in compelling ways, and, most importantly, amply displays Zoey
Deutch as a fresh faced and confident actress to be on the look out for.
BEFORE I FALL is also a rare young adult genre effort that
understands its core demographic without shamelessly talking down to it,
and that makes the film more richly interesting for all viewers regardless