Imagine having to relive the same day for an undisclosed period of time. Now imagine if that day was filled with snotty, self-obsessed, failed Mean Girls prototypes. Cringing yet? Then you’ll loooove Before I Fall, a YA adaption that misrepresents the easiest of messages. Themes are simple – be excellent to one another! Except in order to do so, characters must first act like morally reprehensible, astonishingly plastic high school stereotypes. Because, redemption? Except director Ry Russo-Young resets the same day ad nauseum, so what’s to say characters change based on one freaky Friday? And then there’s – sorry, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start small.
Wow – what the fuck did I just watch?
Zoey Deutch stars as Samantha Kingston, a privileged suburban teenager who takes life for granted. Her squad of betches live it up like queen bees, kissing the hottest boys and attending the raddest parties. Is there more to life, you ask? For four years, Samantha and company cared only about themselves. Other students were just targets for their mean jokes, especially “Mellow Yellow” Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris).
Samantha could ponder her worth, or attend the party Kent (Logan Miller) is throwing just so she’ll show up. It works – even though Samantha is only there to wrangle drunk boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) – but an uninvited guest arrives shortly after: Juliet (dramatic lightning bolt). She bitches out her tormentors (including Halston Sage as Lindsay) and runs into the woods. Weird, right? Well, then Samantha’s involved in a car accident, only to wake up and relive that same day on repeat. Forever. Maybe? She’ll have to find out.
Thus kickstarts a spinning wheel of inner-thinking that’s neither revelatory nor coherent, as Samantha becomes a time-defying existentialist in search of life’s meaning. An answer to her cyclical dilemma. What could possibly have sparked such a nightmare! How she treated her mother? Father? Sister? Friends? The love she pursued over the one she “deserved?” Man, what could it be – maybe that “freakish” Juliet girl they called a psycho killer sociopath?! Nah, can’t be. Let’s go through 100 different iterations of the same day BEFORE jumping to the MOST OBVIOUS conclusion, because how else will our characters grow?
I mean, IF they grew. Before I Fall would have benefited from just cutting to the chase, but instead, Samantha copes with a numbing range of tone-deaf emotions.
It takes a lot for me to hate a Zoey Dutch film. She’s a spunky package of charisma that almost convinced me that Why Him? was enjoyable, but writer Maria Maggenti fails her so mightily here. Dialogue is either alpha-bitch spite, hippie-psychiatrist positive or forced curiosity, made worse by supporting characters cut from rejected teen dramas. I get that young adults need reinforcement, but when Dutch is practically screaming “YOU ARE PERFECT THE WAY YOU ARE” into the camera, Before I Fall loses potency. A simple “nice boots!” complement given to “bull-dyke” Anna (Liv Hewson) washes away years of Lindsey’s abuse? Really? There’s being nice, and there’s being woefully idealistic. We forget that this is only one day in Samantha’s life, yet she packs the emotional righting of entire generations into a few small actions. How? Because magic! I mean, we are enduring Groundhogs Day For The Angsty Teen Soul.
The viciousness of Samantha’s crew drive a disheartening tonal wedge. During Samantha’s first day – pre repetition – personalities hold no disgusting qualities back. Catty comments are one thing, but these cronies go above and beyond to belittle classmates with bitch-tastic abandon.
Then, as the days pile up, Samantha learns secrets that only feed more resentment – something Maggenti never pays off. Lindsay erects a false “strength” by acting as an insult-per-minute machine, but Samantha never connects any dots. She just offers a well-timed(?) hug one random day. That’s…uh…it? It’s only one example, but this highlights a bigger issue with Before I Fall. How director Ry Russo-Young doesn’t offer explanations for actions or repentance, trading depth of understanding for a few surface-value “I love you” lines. Live every day like it’s your last, I get it. But you can’t flip a happy switch and call it even-stevens. Emotions take time to unwind, and Samantha does not have the power to set positivity in motion over one single day.
Now, I need to venture into spoiler territory here, because the ending of Before I Fall is a slap to the face. It nullifies what little hopefulness is presented. Please note that spoilers will follow from this point. Read on at your own risk.
Alright, let’s do this.
This is a movie about Samantha finding her perfect day, and in doing so, righting not only her life, but those negatively impacted before. Correct? One of her final lines is about how she’s saved – RIGHT BEFORE DYING HORRIBLY. Self-worth through martyrdom, the perfect message! Samantha is the only character who shows any progress (by default), which slams into a brick wall upon her fade-out to black.
Except, that’s not how this works. At all.
Samantha wasn’t “saved,” then. She was caught in some wretched purgatory, accepted her fate, but instead of furthering learned life-lessons, she’s snuffed out. The only way for bullies to right their lives is in death? Is that the message? By killing off Samantha, all progress is rendered obsolete. Not to mention, she dies saving Juliet as she tries to commit suicide – because that’s not going to fuck up her life, right? You saved her, but also doomed her to a guilt-ridden existence that probably involves more shunning from locals? What’s the point of it all! Zero redemption. ZERO. Meaning All that horrid gay-panic, random-white-knight-ing, unnecessary verbal bile was for nothing?
Before I Fall displays such stunted thinking, almost infantile. Nothing is complicated. Hurt feelings are fixed by a pat on the head and a breakfast sandwich. Yet, when it comes to the film’s driving conflict – the whole reason Samantha is stuck in her time loop – absolutely nothing is done until the last minute. Samantha has an entire day to make Juliet feel loved, but ignores inevitability aside from sending some stupid “Cupid Day” rose message (it’s a Valentines Day celebration at school, Samantha is a virgin, that’s a whole subplot). She still lets Juliet show up at the party, she still chases her into the woods, and doesn’t attempt her final act of compassion until it’s STILL too late. Wh..what…HUH?!
The fault in Ry Russo-Young and Maria Maggenti’s stars is that they never truly explore the signs of grief that Lauren Oliver’s book touts. This movie makes life to be so cut-and-dry. We should live good, enriching lives, making other’s experiences on Earth that much better. I don’t argue that. But life is also extremely murky. And painful. Why boil an entire lifetime down to one day? Not to mention the number of repeated days is extremely fuzzy, and Amanda Seyfried displays more chemistry in Mean Girls with her weather-predicting boobs than any of Samantha’s friends conjure between each other. Or how details like Samantha waking up at different times are never explained (6:52, 6:50, ect).
Before I Fall is false representation. A first-world white kid stuck in a life-affirming tumble. It’s mean and nasty to prove a point, without an ending that circles back on previous drama. Few films make me question “What the hell did I just watch,” but 2017 is off to an early start. JUST BE NICE, EVERYONE. There. That wasn’t such a hard sentence to convey, now was it?
Before I Fall makes a simple plot into this convoluted, aggravating mess of emotional turmoil that lacks a shocking amount of direction.