While it exists on the opposite end of a shared spectrum, Before I Fall immediately brings to mind the movie Slipstream, which was directed with excitement of vision by Anthony Hopkins. In some ways, these two films are connected, if only tenuously. Both involve: time loops and some form of paradoxes, revelations to be discovered and a search for personal meaning. These are loose similarities as, at the very least, they are structurally different. Slipstream employs a Domino meets F for Fake editing style where Before I Fall is more traditionally linear, giving way to a more familiar and safe feel. And while they both exist on opposite ends of a shared spectrum, I get the sense that neither will attain fan favorite or even cult status. Mediocre, these films are not. Mainstream? Maybe not so much. Affecting? Sure.
Before I Fall takes place over the course of one day, over and over and over again, for high school senior Samantha. A car crash sparks this loop for her, causing much anxiety and grief for the confused teen. In her sassy and savvy girlfriends style world, Sam is surrounded by all the silly choices she’s made up to this point, including the dumb jock she’s in “love” with and the lonely artsy girl her group likes to make fun of. Pop songs, glossy makeup and dancing upon dancing cover up and mask what is honest and true, despite the fact that, unbeknownst to them, high school is just a blip. However, like most teens, they don’t collectively understand nor accept their own mortality, believing this one moment and lifestyle will stay forever. They are both wrong and right. And Samantha will learn this before they, in the hardest of ways.
Much like the brilliant and eternal Groundhog Day which, perhaps for copyright reasons, was not looked up or discussed by Sam at all, there is no direct connection to anything faith related. Thankfully, the movie steers clear of that tricky road by vaguely suggesting that Sam’s conscience and maybe subconscious have been manifested externally. It’s a stretch that may be true, but is really unimportant when watching, as this is a movie more about observance, feeling and reflection than explanation and easy satisfaction. Director Ry-Russo Young hits at something kind and true, genuine and sincere with this series of moments within a moment. Beneath the loud songs being played and the even louder personalities and melodramatics, Ry-Russo captures the anxieties and trials of high school development through a most knowing and almost pitying (I dare not suggest self pitying) lens. And not to be outdone by her director, Zoey Deutch plays Sam with a weight of the world kind of grace and gaze, understanding that, in this predicament and at her age, it’s best to express the toll of the scenario with heaviness, both in her walk and eyes.
“Before I Fall takes place over the course of one day, over and over and over again, for high school senior Samantha.”
However good Before I Fall is at painting its portrait of a teenager in an existential crisis most severe, it is equally bad at giving way to schmaltz, by which I mean sap. There are comedies I haven’t laughed at with the pure fervor that I did at certain points in this film. Laughter is my natural reaction to intense – or ridiculous – high emotion, which may be why I wasn’t liked in high school all that much. I accept the notion that the movie is just expressing to a fault the kind of levels and traumatically dramatic mindsets that teens can reach, but it doesn’t stop me from cracking up at lines of dialogue that come straight out of a trashy Lifetime flick or grocery store novel. At times, things get terribly embarrassing for everyone involved, including the audience. An old couple left my screening shaking their heads. Prepare yourselves.
I can’t call Before I Fall plain or tasteless, but it is held back by familiarity. I can’t call it flat out terrible or silly, despite varying degrees of both existing within. It’s a wholly unique presentation of modern American youth, with scars and annoyances all included. It’s well rounded enough though rough around some edges. As Anthony Hopkins said in the commentary track for Slipstream regarding his film, “It’s supposed to make you angry.” In some manner, perhaps rephrased, Ry-Russo Young might end up with a similar line. Angry? No. Frustrated? Sure.
Before I Fall (2017) Director: Ry Russo-Young Writers: Maria Maggenti (screenplay), Lauren Oliver (based on the novel by) Stars: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu
2 1/2 out of 5