BEFORE I FALL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ry Russo-Young

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, Medalion Rahimini, Elena Kampouris, Logan Miller, Rian Lawley, Jennifer Beals, Diego Boneta.

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Despite her privileged background, Samantha Kingston (played by Zoey Deutch, recently seen in Why Him?) is your typical rebellious teenager with a lack of respect for her parents and authority. She is part of a clique of mean girl bitches at the local high school, led by the self-absorbed narcissistic bully Lindsay (Halston Sage). The rest of this quartet is rounded out by Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (the wonderfully named Medalion Rahimi). They have made life difficult for fellow students like Juliet (Elena Kampouris, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, etc), the plain looking, silent, moody and lonely outcast, whose main outlet for her frustration and resentment is through her dark and disturbing charcoal drawings.

The action takes place on February 12, which is called Cupid’s Day at the local high school, and the students exchange roses and cute little notes. That night Sam and her three friends attend a party thrown by Kent McFuller (Logan Miller) a sensitive and sweetly awkward lad who used to be a close childhood friend of Sam’s until she drifted away with her poisonous new group of friends. And although Kent has tried to make overtures to reconnect with Sam she rebuffs him to spend time with her boyfriend, the handsome but insensitive high school jock and bad boy Rob (Kian Lawley). At the party though Juliet arrives and creates a rather ugly scene when she berates Lindsay and her shallow circle of friends before fleeing. On the way home, Sam and her friends are involved in a fatal car crash.

The next day Sam wakes up and finds herself reliving the previous day over and over again. Slowly she learns how to change the circumstances and events, hoping to make things right. But as she tries to manipulate events, Sam learns that even small actions have unexpected consequences. Sam is embarked on an existential search for redemption and answers to this dilemma. She learns how superficial she has been and tries to atone for her past mistakes. He efforts to change the past include being nicer to Juliet, although here is where the film does somehow fall down as there are many other routes that Sam could have taken to mend that relationship with her.

Based on the best-selling YA novel written by Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall is best described as Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. This is another film that follows in the footsteps of those other time loop dramas such as Source Code and Edge Of Tomorrow, in which the central protagonist lives the same day over and over, tweaking the past slightly each time to find a better outcome and learning some important lessons along the way. But this sombre variation on the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day deals with far more serious and relevant themes such as bullying, peer group pressure, the cliques of high school, identity, youth suicide, finding your own sense of your place in the world, the high cost of friendship.

But unlike Groundhog Day there is no happy ending here. This is a rather sombre and at times dark tale. The screenplay has been written by Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventures Of Two Girls In Love, etc), who manages to balance the darker drama with some light touches and beats of genuine humour. The film has been directed by Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks, etc) who seems to have a great understanding of the central characters and this world of adolescent angst and rebellion. It delivers some heavy-handed life lessons. And while Before I Fall manages to avoid many of the clichés of the teen high school drama, the material does become a little melodramatic and even mawkish at times. It is a polished looking production, which has been nicely shot by cinematographer Michael Fimognari (better known for his work on horror films like Ouija and Oculus, etc), who gives it a colder, steely blue aesthetic.

Russo-Young is well served by her youthful cast. In particular, Deutch has a great screen presence and makes the most of this meaty role. She initially comes across as a follower willing to fit in with her friends, but she grows in strength and confidence and develops a sense of her own self as the film progresses. It is a great role for Deutch and allows her to show a harder edge. She goes through a range of emotions and also essays a vastly different range of character traits in each repetitive cycle. There is also some great chemistry between her and Sage, and their relationship comes across as fairly natural and credible. And Lindsay is also not a one-dimensional bitch either, as we get to learn some insights into her character and the causes of her meanness. This makes her a more rounded and complex character as well.

And it’s nice to see Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals on screen again with her small role as Sam’s mother.

★★★

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