Zoey Deutch Breathes Life into ‘Before I Fall’

By: Debbie Wang

Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s young-adult book of the same name may not be for everyone, but the two of them definitely understand the demographic they are trying to pitch this film to. Between the unironic use of the word “bae” and calling all your enemies bitches, Before I Fall is an accurate, albeit very dark, look into the struggles of teenage girls trying to navigate the drama of high school.

Stuck reliving Cupid’s Day (aka Valentine’s Day), Samantha Kingston (Zoey Duetch) starts the first iteration by getting picked up by her best baes Lindsay, Ally, and Elody (Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, Madalion Rahimi) to discuss how she plans on losing her virginity to her boyfriend. The rest of the school day goes on by collecting roses in a popularity showdown, denying the advances of a boy she used to be friends with (Logan Miller as Kent), and relentlessly bullying Juliet Skyes (Elena Kampouris) by calling her a “psycho” that should return to a mental institution. If you haven’t already realized, the quartet are the most popular girls in school and also the meanest.

At Kent’s house party later that night, an altercation occurs between Lindsay and Juliet and the four girls leave the party angry. Distracted by the drama, their SUV crashes and, presumably, they die. But suddenly Sam wakes up in her own bed and Cupid’s Day starts all over again. But no matter what she does differently each time she repeats the day, she can’t escape the time loop.

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It’s easy to call this film a cross between Groundhog Day and Mean Girls, because the similarities are glaringly obviously. But in just 99 minutes, the film does find its own voice and identity by not pushing its message too hard: What you do today matters, so make it a worthy day. It’s something that Sam thinks about often in the later versions of the day and even asks her mother if she thinks Sam is a good person. To which her mother answers that it’s more important that Sam believes she is a good person.

Where the film truly shines though, is in Deutch’s performance. She brings heart and soul to a story line that would seem bleak without her. Somehow, Deutch is able to give a nuanced performance for each repeated day, where each iteration you can see Sam realizing something more about her own character. It’s subtle, but it also makes the plot slightly more believable. Deutch makes Sam a relatable character for teenage girls; they are able to place themselves in Sam’s impractical-for-walking-might-break-your-ankle-while-wearing-them shoes.

Before I Fall may not be for anyone over the age of 20. In fact, many of the scenes can seem slightly immature and have you rolling your eyes. But for many teens, this is the reality of their everyday life. Where there’s a constant need to fit in with the popular crowd. Where bullies taunt them excessively. Where they feel like their worth is determined by someone else’s opinion. And as long as one girl feels like she can relate to either the bully or the bullied, then the film is a success.

Rating: 6/10

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One Reply to “Zoey Deutch Breathes Life into ‘Before I Fall’”

  1. I was eager to see the film, having just read the novel. To my surprise, the novel is about the the group’s daily life south of Poughkeepsie, New York – a town I ran away to when fresh out of high school, so the story had personal value. But – the screenplay was about life in the Pacific Northwest (Lindsey makes it clear she hates the rainy weather there). The young adult novel was long at 117,500 words or 470 pages, but the screenwriter made it fit into 99 pages of screenplay, and IMHO could have done more with less, as the NYT film critic also stated. The cafeteria scene was very long and could have been cut by at least half. Sam’s confusion over a second Cupid Day could have been much more dramatic (to her parent’s confusion, she could be seen looking at every phone in the house, in the futile hope one would say Saturday). In fact, on her first after-life morning, there could have been a church scene (“Linds, stop here. I need to tell someone something.”), where she shocks the pastor by saying, “I think I died last night.” and the pastor asking if she is familiar with the term purgatory (Sam’s statement would have made for good trailer tease material). And, the orange lighting used in the party scenes – ugh, made it hard to see at times, and the foggy nighttime forest scenes and Kent’s bedroom low-light scenes, that were also hard on the eyes (even ’40s film noirs were easier to see). The scene with “Fizzy” could have been expanded (the last day with her sister was one of the most emotional scenes in the book, Sam expressing regret for leaving her sister when she relied on her the most), as well as expanding on Lindsay’s secret anorexia, when Sam finds her purging one night after dinner. Also, Juliet’s very dark home life as explained in the book could have been included, and would have made her more that just a “weird” girl who was incorrectly blamed for wetting her sleeping bag. Its easy for me to suggest ideas, but it seems there weren’t enough creative meetings.

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