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.
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.
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