It’s “Mean Girls” meets “Groundhog Day” in “Before I Fall,” a surprisingly thoughtful young adult drama based on the novel by Lauren Oliver. The story gives a fresh perspective on the familiar themes of self discovery, living your life to the fullest, and the potential of one single gesture to make a powerful difference in the world.
Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is a high school senior with a seemingly perfect life and bright future. She hangs with a popular pack of pretty girls (Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi, and Cynthy Wu) who take pleasure in bullying reclusive weirdo Juliette (Elena Kampouris) because of the strange way she dresses and acts. On the way home from a party one night, she and her best friends get in a horrible car accident. The next morning, Samantha wakes up with a serious case of deja vu.
Sam soon realizes that she has become stuck in a time loop and is forced to relive the same day over and over until she finally gets it right. It’s unclear if she is dead or alive, but every single night the day reboots and she’s back in her bed, waiting to start again. No matter what she does the day always ends and restarts the same way. It’s a good concept that’s been done to death, but luckily this version of the stuck-in-Purgatory theme seems fresh and new.
So why is that the case? I give great credit to Deutch and her natural, organic, and effortless performance. Even though she hangs with some not so nice gal pals, you can’t help but instantly like her and feel a real connection. Another reason this film works is the surprisingly mature and strong screenplay (by Maria Maggenti). The characters are written with an honest sincerity, as we all knew kids just like this when we were in high school. They speak like real teens and they act like real teens, with the most superficial things taking center stage in their lives.
This would be a good film to watch with your tweens and teens as there is a lot of material that should encourage interesting discussions, from the damaging effects of cruel bullying to the responsibilities of being a young woman to dealing with peer pressure and semi-toxic friendships. I love that the movie respects its characters and its audience, which makes it rise above the rest.
That’s not to say that it’s flawless, however. There’s a little too much filler, with repetitive scenes of teen girls singing along to the radio, putting on makeup and hanging out. The film could stand to lose at least fifteen minutes of superfluous padding, which was unnecessary in the first place because the story is so compelling and the script is so well written.
Still, there are quite a few refreshing revelations and twists to the story and a great (if startling) ending that’s not a letdown (even though the lesson is probably one that you’ll see coming from a mile away).
“Before I Fall” is a reminder that high school is torture and being a teenager really, really sucks. I am surprised at how good this movie is.