“Before I Fall” (2017)
Running Time: 99 minutes
Written by: Maria Maggenti,
Directed by: Ry Russo-Young
Featuring: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals, Diego Boneta and Elena Kampouris
Samantha Kingston: “If I was going to live the same day over and over, I wanted it to mean something… and not just to me.”
This movie is the second movie I have reviewed this month that has been written and directed by women, not only that they were both based on novels written by women – this is one of the most refreshing things about both these films, “Their Finest” (2017) and now this one, “Before I Fall” (2017). The differences being one, “Their Finest”, was a historical lesson of sorts, while “Before I Fall” is a kind of morality play, based on a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver. Starting to watch the film you may see this as a “Mean Girls” (2004) rip off with a touch of “Groundhog Day” (1993) thrown in for good measure – just to make a difference. Now I am the first to admit I am probably not the target market for this movie, but the longer I stuck with it the more I enjoyed it. It does have many story tics you would expect, the main character learns her lesson, starts being ‘nice’ to people and in doing so does save the day for all – this is a lesson movie, and everyone learns theirs.
The film is primarly concerned with Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) who wakes on Valentine’s Day. She is picked up by her friends, Lindsey (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), who joke with her about losing her virginity to her boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) that night. During class, Sam is handed a bunch of roses from her boyfriend with a blasé note. Included in the bunch is a pale colored rose with a note suggesting it is from another boy named Kent (Logan Miller). He later invites her to his party. During lunch the girls make fun of Juliet (Elena Kampouris), an outsider girl that they view as a “psycho”. At the party, Juliet shows up, seemingly uninvited. Lindsay confronts her and the two fight, with Juliet leaving in tears. As they are driving back from the party, the car hits something and crashes.
Sam wakes in her room on Valentine’s Day again. Thinking the previous day was just a dream, Sam continues on with her day but finds that the same events occur, and they again crash leaving the party.
So the general thrust of the movie is something that we have seen in many genre television shows and many many movies, that is the time loop where one or more characters have to relive moments over again until they learn some kind of lesson – so when you think about it a mean girls inspired movie was just screaming for this, where the not so mean girl learns her lesson and loves happily ever after. What makes this movie unique, or is unique at all?
The look of the movie is interesting as it dovetails the natural look of teen films by actually making it look more like a horror film, this is in part thanks to the use of Michael Fimognari as the cinematographer who has surprise surprise worked on a high proportion of genre movies, particularly horror movies. This is something that works really well as can be seen as the plot and narrative move along. It of course gives some sense of dread as the main character Samantha learns about her peril as well the peril of others. There is a use of lighting to highlight moments in the film, like red for danger, blue as a muted tone and black as the main highlighting of a duality within Samantha.
The lessons that Samantha may have to learn or be made aware of are relatively simplistic as far as lessons go, and of course we are dealing with adolescents means that the plot has to move along extremely quickly. This means that Samantha learns about her predicament and accepts it pretty quickly compared to other similar yarns, which does ring hollow as well as her ‘experimenting’ with time loop, which again feels rushed on her part as well as the story. To me this is a little unfortunate as the aspects of her nature that change can feel unearned – I mean the lessons she is learning would probably be learned once she went to College/University – does she really need a time loop?
The director, Ry Russo-Young, working with her screenwriter Maria Maggenti, bring to life the cliques as well as the worries that face teenagers not only now but throughout most peoples experiences, so that is nothing new. One of the more disappointing aspects of the film is the reliance (not just for this film but for many teen films) on the fact that the main protagonist as well as her antagonists are all extremely wealthy, or have wealthy parents, which again means that some real socio-political problems don’t even have to be raised – like money issues, paying for college, not having transport or anything else that may be perceived as ‘real issues’. Oh yes, this is also a part of the US that has no racial issues either and they get around that by having no African-American characters – it is that almost mono-culture we live in – very post-Trump.
Now saying all that bullying is no joke especially at school as can be seen in the news almost every other day, but what this film does is negate everything else and say that if only people were nice to each other everything would just be alright. Unfortunately that world does not exist, humans can be cruel, and teenagers are no exception. Bullying can be a symptom of other social ills, which do not seem to exist in this white town – it’s a shame because a real opportunity was missed. I still think that this a good film, it does work both plot wise as well as using the narrative that has been set up.
This is actually a very entertaining movie and reminded me of another teen-centric film directed by David S. Goyer, “The Invisible” (2007), about issues at a High School, but while the protagonist was very upper class, the movie’s antagonists had real issues that were worked through the entire movie – this too was based on a novel – but was more ‘real’ than this one. It seems to me that more could have been done to make this film more ‘real’ and take some of the narrative shine of it.
Given all of my thoughts I would still recommend this movie as a watch just to support the kind of film it wants to be and not the film that it is. The performances are all as polished as you would expect them to be given that this is a studio film. This film works well if there was just one issue, but in life that is very rarely true, so I believe while this gives the main character hope in changing her life and those around her it would have been good to add some realism to it.
“Before I Fall” is out now in cinemas only.
Do you need help if you are being bullied?
Who can help?
Whanau: If they aren’t sure what to do, show them this link.
School: If you and the bullies are school-aged, you should let a teacher, school counsellor and dean know. They are responsible for student wellbeing and safety.
Workplace: If it’s happening at work, you should let your boss know – and if your boss is the bully, then contact their boss or check out this link.
Friends: They hang out with you so you’re not alone and stick up for you when the bullies are around.
Counsellor or youth worker. A counsellor can help with the impact bullying has had. They can teach you skills to stick up for yourself and build your confidence back up again.
“Before I Fall” is out now in cinemas everywhere.