Director: Ry Russo-Young
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Awesomeness Films, Jon Shestack Productions and Open Road Films.
Written by: Maria Maggenti, based on the novel “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver.
In the young adult-novel adaptation Before I Fall, we essentially have a “Groundhog Day”-scenario passed through the filter of television programming you routinely find on television programs aired on the CW or Freeform. There is a macabre heavy-handedness that hangs around the film’s premise, but director Ry Russo-Young knows how to frame and style her picture to perk up minds and keep viewers interested.
Pitched and aimed to a notoriously fickle crowd, Before I Fall tackles a lot – like a lot a lot – telling the story of Sam (Zoey Deutch), who finds herself stuck in a time loop following a terrible car accident. She wakes up every morning, has no patience with her sister or parents, and revisits “Cupid Day” at her Pacific Northwest-area high school. She is picked up every morning by best friend and mean girl Lindsay (Halston Sage), who then swings by and nabs besties Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi).
They are bulletproof, fearless, and on top of the high school food chain.
“Cupid Day”, taking place the Friday before Valentine’s Day, leads to a big party that evening where Sam and boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) are set to consummate their relationship. Sam’s friends are super supportive, she is nervous, and Rob – well, let’s just say he’s a rather deplorable sort. (Sorry, spoiler alert.)
To the party we go, after Sam has momentary encounters during the school day with a lesbian classmate (Liv Hewson) and a childhood friend, Kent (Logan Fuller), who may or may not have sent her a rose during the Cupid Day festivities. The girls seem to take glee in bullying the socially awkward, artistic introvert Julia (Elena Kampouris) and seem completely comfortable in their popular, vain, rather superficial, 4-pack of friend utopia.
It is Kent’s house where the party – a full blown kegger – goes down and where the simultaneous occurrences take place which lead to the accident and Sam’s reoccurring days. Initially, Sam tries to fix it for herself. Later, she tries to fix it for other people, However, nothing snaps her out of her loop. And she, and we, try to understand what she is missing to make everything snap back to normal for everyone.
Before I Fall is heartfelt and it does truly mean well. Cinematography by Michael Fimognari is always slightly off-kilter and bathed in clever and symbolic lighting cues. The continuity is spot on for the day-after-day moments (other than a cell phone alarm time that is never quite the same…) and the film is richly detailed and well constructed.
On the one hand, this is all quite refreshing to watch because few films are truly willing to go there and give us a view of high school life through a female voice, lens, and vision. There’s a stripping of vanity here that is necessary and notable. And while Sam’s losing of her virginity is a subplot of the film, significant elements of the movie are not fixated on needing validation or admiration from a boy. Sam is searching for answers within a feminine world and the film should be praised for at least existing in that space.
What stops the film squarely in its tracks is simply the reality that what finds comfortably in a book of 496 pages does not easily fit inside a 100-minute movie. Russo-Young, directing her third film, is confident and clear on her storytelling. Sadly however, the screenplay from Maria Maggenti just has too much stuffing. The themes and concepts here fight for air and struggle to be heard, much less listened to.
That the movie fizzles out before the mystery is revealed or lessons are learned is a bummer because, as Sam, Deutch delivers a terrific, engaging performance in a movie that has a lot of chaos swirling around her. She centers the film and offers us a place to focus and breathe. As her friends and other characters devolve into caricature and lose more and more of a realistic quality in how they are depicted, Sam is always in the present, succeeding to consider the moments, and Deutch’s obvious talents make the film easy to watch and spend time with.
But there’s just too much to ponder here. Acceptance arrives in numerous iterations with the girl who is bullied, the discontent brewing within the squad of girls, the tensions around Sam and Rob’s “big night”, the lesbian student who refers to living in “heteronormative hell”, and so on. There’s simply nothing for them to really do here other than just be “those people.” Though a number of characters offer insight and perspective as Sam tries to break out of her nightmarish scenario, these characters are simply props who lack the depth necessary to mean much in creating the larger vision of the movie.
Here is the Before I Fall conundrum…
Everything the film is trying to say is fresh, new, by and through these voices, and important to hear. But Maggenti and Russo-Young only have 99 minutes. So they speed through so much that nothing matters. Before I Fall feels like a highlight package of the first season of a television series. The premise is intriguing, the power is lacking, the significance is fleeting, and the film unfortunately wastes the opportunity to really resonate.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Audiences will be intrigued to see how a beloved book is recreated on the big screen.
- Zoey Deutch. This should hopefully be a name we hear about for a long time to come.
- Fans of teen-themed shows on the CW and Freeform will likely love this. Not a knock on those programs at all, but this film looks and feels very similar to those shows in several different ways.
- Just misses the mark. Has all the tools, but ends up wasting a number of intriguing elements that make the film engaging and interesting. That is frustrating.
- Good intentions do not always lead to good movies and with nothing really developed here beyond the basic premise, characters have faux-significance and importance, which may alienate some viewers who see people they know made to look like props for a solitary purpose.
- The melodrama and heavy-handed nature of some scenes makes this a little too easy to dismiss and knock away. Again, that’s unfortunate – there’s a good movie existing in here.