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Review: Before I Fall

March 3, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

before-i-fall-posterThe easiest way to describe Before I Fall would be as a sort of YA Groundhog Day, but this richly textured and wholly engaging high school time loop drama still has enough originality and smarts to become something really good on its own terms.

It’s “Cupid’s Day,” and Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is a popular small town teenager who goes to school with her trio of mean girl friends, led by queen bee Lindsay (Halston Sage).  Roses are handed out in class, and the quartet of besties go to a party that night, only to have their car flip over on the way home after an unfortunate series of events causes them to leave.

The next morning, Samantha wakes up in bed, and the whole thing starts all over again, dooming her to keep repeating the same day until she gets it right.  Maybe Samantha just needs to make amends with outsider Juliet (Elena Kampouris) who her friends relentlessly bully, and finally acknowledge the affections of her sweet childhood friend Kent (Logan Miller) who harbours a not so secret crush on her, in order to actually break the cycle.

In addition to the obvious and clearly unavoidable Groundhog Day comparisons, the film also takes its inspirations from Mean Girls, Donnie Darko and Carrie at any given moment, with a look and tone that sometimes calls to mind the best parts of the first Twilight.  But Before I Fall is much more than just the sum of these comparisons.  Director Ry Russo-Young injects a moody emo feel into the material, right down to an edgy soundtrack of indie rock songs, that ultimately makes Before I Fall more interesting than a lot of other teen fare.  Major props also go to horror movie cinematographer Michael Fimognari who gives the whole thing a compellingly dark and foreboding feel.

The film also functions as a standout showcase for Zoey Deutch, leaving no doubt of her capabilities as a leading star after memorable supporting work in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! just last year.  The young actor handles Samantha’s character arc brilliantly, showing impressive range between playing the passive mean girl at the beginning, to a stone cold seductress in the “no longer give a damn” part of the time loop, before finally showing compassion and empathy in the redemptive finale.  It’s a bravura showcase for her highly expressive dramatic talents.

As the day keeps repeating itself, with Samantha making different choices and small changes in attempts to break the cycle, Before I Fall becomes surprisingly thought provoking and also moving.  The film uses its time loop premise to explore the importance of embracing the time you’ve got and treating others with kindness, because we never know how the lives of others are intrinsically linked to ours through fate, and that’s a moral we can all benefit from, even if we aren’t high schoolers in need of redemption.

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