Popular teen Sam (Zoey Deutch) wakes up on the morning of her high school’s “Cupid Day,” during which secret admirers can send roses to their crushes. Sam and her three best friends (all beautiful and from affluent families) are the most admired girls in school, and they always get the most roses. Their popularity depends -- as it usually does in the movies -- on the fact that they’re willing to ridicule and ostracize the school’s outcasts. At a party that night, Sam and her friends (played by Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi) confront one of those outcasts, a classmate named Juliet (Elena Kampouris), and make her so upset that she abruptly leaves the bash. During their drive home, the foursome get into a severe car accident when their SUV crashes on a dark Pacific Northwest backroad.
But then Sam wakes up, safe and sound, and it’s Cupid Day once again. She drifts through the day while trying to figure out what’s happening, only for the SUV crash to repeat itself as the cycle begins anew. Now, she must determine what actions she can take in a single day to change this outcome, and she explores all of the interpersonal decisions she’s made to get to this point.
The easy comparisons to Groundhog Day need no further examination, but picture that concept mixed with a dash of Mean Girls and a bit of Donnie Darko for good measure. It’s refreshing, at least, to see a YA film that doesn’t feel the need to hide behind a postapocalyptic conceit in order to deliver a moral lesson. Director Ry Russo-Young and scribe Maria Maggenti adapted the movie from Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel, but they ditched the source material’s “five stages of grief” philosophizing. While formulaic, perhaps putting Sam through more easily recognizable stages of repentance would have given the story more structure -- instead, it grows repetitive (well, duh) and has some lifeless stretches in the middle.
One of the problems with Before I Fall’s many “teachable moments” is that Sam is the most innocuous member of her clique. She’s passively involved in their bullying and reprehensible behavior, which makes her journey of self-realization less satisfying since we know she’s a good person deep down. Exposition from her parents, ex-crushes, and her BFFs reveal that she’s always been a big-hearted gal, just one seemingly caught up in the high-school rat race.
If the film can make one person step back from his or her life and analyze the daily cruelties they inflict on others, then it’s been a worthwhile venture. But unfortunately, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in the world this movie presents, which is full of stereotypical mean teens, unfettered wealth, and by-the-numbers “weirdos.” At least Deutch got a leading role to shine in -- she’s certainly a young talent worth tracking.
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