Fresh Twist on Groundhog Day
Cheap to make and exceedingly appealing to the hordes of theater-going teens, young adult novel-to-big-screen adaptions are a financial no-brainer in Hollywood these days. And with the requisite safe and familiar themes meant to reassure teen audiences that the horrors of adolescence are the same for everyone, they rarely rise above surface level nonsense. But the oddly-titled Before I Fall is different. Anything but safe and familiar, it introduces a supernatural-ish element to the genre that plays nicely into its grander questions about the nature of life and how we learn to accept its fundamental value. And its riff on Groundhog Day -- but set in a high school -- is a fresh twist on an old friend. All this to say that as far as Groundhog Day knockoffs go, this one could have been much worse. Before I Fall follows Groundhog Day’s structure in that its main character must relive the same horrible day over and over. And like that classic comedy, any attempts to change the day’s outcome prove fruitless as the day always resets back to its beginning.
Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch, Everybody Wants Some) is our Phil Connors and she’s at the top of her high school pecking order along with the remaining trio of self-described “bitches,” mean girl Lindsay (Halston Sage), wild child Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and passive-aggressive Ally (Cynthy Wu). Sam’s day consists of ignoring her loving family, spending time with her douchebag boyfriend (Diego Boneta), and otherwise being dismissive of the nice guy (Logan Miller) who has harbored a crush on her since childhood. Sam is always on board with joining her friends as they enjoy bullying Juliet (Elena Kampouris), the school’s resident emo and token outcast.
But Sam’s day is about to change in a big way. As the girls are driving home from a Cupid’s Day kegger, their car is sideswiped and sent into a deadly tailspin on the dark, lonely road. Sam wakes up from the accident in her bed, at home... as if the day had never happened. Rinse and repeat.
Before I Fall is adapted for the big screen by Maria Maggenti from Lauren Oliver’s novel of the same name. Ry Russo-Young is at the helm as they’ve all managed an unlikely genre-bending coup de grâce of sorts. Yes, the story is populated by the requisite gaggle of disgustingly obnoxious teenagers who impatiently roll their eyes at even the mere mention of being nice to someone to outside their clique. And neither is particularly likable. In fact, every one of them is truly reprehensible as they epitomize the worst of America’s youth. But Russo-Young’s Pacific Northwest setting -- with its moody atmosphere and persistently overcast skies -- lends a fitting otherworldly feel to the proceedings.
Deutch plays her straight person character perfectly against the grotesqueness of her peers. She steals nearly every scene she’s in and can’t help but elevate the entire experience with a performance sure to lead to big things for the beautiful young actress. One scene shared with Kampouris’s Juliet is particularly heartwarming and adds a much-needed bit of heart and soul to the otherwise bleak affair.
Before I Fall is not a particularly fun film to watch and will never be mistaken for a typical happy-go-lucky, fun-time-at-the-movies entry into its young teen genre. It is a bit darker than that. In fact, because of that, it may not play particularly well to its target demographic. Regardless, its rather trite well-worn premise manages to create something quite powerful that feels both grounded and enchanting.
(Released by Open Road Films and rated “PG-13” for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language – all involving teens.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.