REVIEW: Before I Fall [2017]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: March 3rd, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Open Road Films
Director(s): Ry Russo-Young
Writer(s): Maria Maggenti / Lauren Oliver (novel)

“This isn’t you”

The comparisons to Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow are unavoidable when you have a story centering on a teenager reliving the same day over and over again like Before I Fall. It’s not bad either when each utilizes the trope in different ways and within different genres. Whether comedy, science-fiction actioner, or young adult coming-of-age drama, the construct remains resonate because we all have regrets. That’s what’s at the heart of these, this idea of going back to fix a wrong ultimately revealed to be much more important than the moment initially presumed. Outsiders can look at our actions and know their effect because they have perspective through context and causality to which we’re blind. And being a high school senior means you’re blind to a lot.

On the surface this film (based on Lauren Oliver‘s novel and adapted by Maria Maggenti) is your run-of-the-mill adolescent teen message-piece about discovering your identity and acknowledging your community sprawls out further than your personal circle of friends. It centers on a Miss Popular named Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), someone you can tell wasn’t always a “Mean Girl” but has currently embraced the mantle nonetheless. She eggs on her catty BFF Lindsay (Halston Sage), ignores her old grade school chum Kent (Logan Miller), and is anxious to lose her virginity to the one guy (Kian Lawley‘s Rob) everyone swoons over on Cupid Day—when students buy roses to be hand-delivered to their crushes by a team of “cupids”. Anyone who hated high school can puke from flashbacks now.

But don’t check out completely because director Ry Russo-Young wants you to remember how bad it was so you can to relate to Samantha’s inevitable evolution mirroring your own post-graduation metamorphosis. Whereas you had years to accept the guilt of actions, move-on from damaging friends, and perhaps even apologize to those you harmed back then, however, she has just twenty-four hours. Lucky for her this day is on repeat to provide the room to figure out what went wrong and how she can fix it. Unfortunately, it’s also the day she dies. So her hope is not only to learn from her mistakes and become the person she should to those she loves, but also to try and find a way to earn redemption and therefore her life.

This in and of itself is a worthy and topical theme in our age of internet bullying, one you can be assured will culminate in a tearjerker finale unable to escape the melodrama viewers embrace on primetime CW television. But that’s merely the vehicle for which Oliver and Maggenti mine the adolescent experience and dissect every facet from ideas of conformity, empathy, rebellion, and heroism. Samantha is allowed one day to let the reality of her situation sink-in—an abrupt car crash sending her back to the previous morning to tweak events for a better outcome—and another to test her impact on some tragedies that occur as a result of actions too far removed to change. She moves from confusion to hopelessness to anger to (hopefully) enlightenment.

Through this process she’s able to learn details that had otherwise been hidden (or that she never felt the compulsion to seek out). She talks to other kids at school, her parents (Jennifer Beals and Nicholas Lea), her sister Izzy (Erica Tremblay), and her clique consisting of Lindsay, Ally (Cynthy Wu), and Elody (Medalion Rahimi) with frustration, vehemence, and ultimately compassion. She discovers what the smallest morsel of kindness can do as well as a prickly barb of rage. And she utilizes every new insight to alter her persona and understand what it is those around her truly need (oftentimes realizing it’s exactly what she needs too). So beyond the aforementioned cinematic comparisons, Before I Fall is actually better described as a close sibling to videogame Life Is Strange.

There’s no missing persons case to solve, but the “tasks” at-hand for Max Caulfield are very similar. Samantha needs to engage people in the correct manner to acquire the knowledge necessary to move forward and themes of youth alcoholism, the psychological impact of divorce, thoughts of suicide, and the pitfalls of unrequited love in the “friend-zone” are present. We begin to see that many of the cocksure attitudes on display are merely masks hiding vulnerability; that the cruelest of actions come from self-hate rather than anything the targeted victim did. We watch as Samantha lets each part of her own conflicted psyche out to play on subsequent days to finally discern which, if any, is truly her. Insecurity runs rampant as materialistic image usurps intrinsic integrity. She seeks to turn this around.

And Deutch handles each persona with skill, the trying nature of her predicament chipping away at her carefully manufactured façade to get at who she always was—a full-hearted little girl her mother remembers and knows she’ll be again. To see her as the ever-dutiful follower (Elena Kampouris‘ picked-on clique nemesis Juliet hits the nail on the head when calling Samantha’s friends “bitches”, but her “pathetic”) before allowing herself a day of empowered truth-telling reveals how both extremes are ill-equipped for happiness. This character must cultivate a medium between the two, an identity wherein she remains in control and accepts the flaws of friends and enemies alike. From there maturity is possible once she accepts her own flaws enough to own them rather than project them onto others.

It’s easy to see yourself in her (or perhaps those orbiting around for better or worse). To watch her react differently every time something is repeated is to unveil the myriad interpretations a simple act can create. Her knee-jerk reaction to Liv Hewson‘s Anna is disdain, followed by curiosity, and then respect. Her lackey mentality of piling on outcasts without knowing why transforms into a drive to ensure her actions have meaning and that she knows their weight. The film is about telling your friends and family you love them, that there’s always time—even when there isn’t—to do what’s right and to be who you want to be for yourself and not society’s warped ideals. Today, right now, is immortal. All that’s truly uncertain is tomorrow.


photography:
[1] (Left to right) Halson Sage, Zoey Deutch, Cynthy Wu and Medalion Rahimi in BEOFRE I FALL. Photo credit: Awesomemess Films / Distributor: Open Road Films
[2] (Left to right) Logan Miller and Zooey Deutch in BEFORE I FALL. Photo credit: Awesomemess Films / Distributor: Open Road Films
[3] (Left to right) Zoey Deutch and Halston Sage and in BEFORE I FALL. Photo credit: Awesomemess Films / Distributor: Open Road Films

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