Zoey Deutch stars in an engaging movie that proves to be mature and intelligent; Ry Russo-Young directed.
The term Young Adult (or YA) tends to result in a groan, particularly with all the non-Hunger Games style future dystopia films that have saturated this market since Jennifer Lawrence killed stuff with a bow. Despite the sophistication of the writing, and the strong messages intended for teenagers, the film adaptations usually either flood the screen with saccharine nonsense or shy away from the things that matter.
Before I Fall, based on Lauren Oliver’s melancholic Groundhog Day tragi-drama novel, retains almost all the trappings of the source material and is bolstered by an excellent performance from Zoey Deutch as Samantha, and the inherent positivity from its anti-bullying message.
It is Valentine’s Day and Sam is ready to lose her virginity to her jerk jock kind-of boyfriend. She wakes up in bed, is greeted by her sister and picked up by her trio of besties for school. Her secret admirer Kent (Logan Miller) invites her to his party during class. At lunch time the girls tease a wild-eyed straggly haired girl Juliet (Elena Kampouris). After school, they prepare for the party together, see Juliet at the party, abuse her and later drive home, only to be involved in a sudden collision. Cut to… She wakes up in bed, is greeted by her sister and picked up by her trio of… you get the picture.
Deutch is convincing as Sam; someone going through an impossible logic scenario. Her attempts at altering the same day range from devil may care to completely altruistic. As she delves into why this might be happening to her, however, she begins to see the true nature of those around her.
Big moments during these reveals are framed by an emotive indietronica score. The great chemistry Sam has with her friends can be grating, but as the film progresses and the score darkens, her tone also changes. The performance from her superficial friends is typical, but thankfully they bookend the film more than anything (but if I hear “bae” one more time…).
The smaller elements in Sam’s day outside her clique become prime focus for the mystery at hand, and this is handled in an organic way, as she meets with bit players who become part of the larger narrative. This is when the film becomes something more than a narcissistic teen trip. Before I Fall also touches on common issues of bullying, peer group pressure, underage sex and binge drinking, and presents them in a non-condescending way, instilling positive messages about their repercussions.
Outside these messages, it is easier to poke holes in some of the plot; the parents of these teenagers seem to have no control over where they go and what they do, and this includes a mentally-challenged girl who shows up to house parties. Additionally, the setting is a bizarre, mountainous, upper-middle class haven; the high school has a helipad, and everything is crystal clean.
Both a clever mystery and an affecting drama, Before I Fall keeps both elements in check and nothing is overplayed despite the absurdity of Sam’s situation. It is not clear if the film is science-fiction, thriller or pure mystery, but the end of the film is handled in such a genuine way that the genre label matters little. The film takes a more minimalist approach. This is not your typical YA mash-up; it has matured to something more sophisticated that will still appeal to that audience.
Before I Fall engages despite the clunky setting. This is ultimately a film about living a life and accepting the truth. The first part is nearly unbearable as the word “bae” is used and abused and nothing seems to be eventuating, but stick with it and you will be surprised just how mature and intelligent this Young Adult adaptation proves to be.