I’ll be the first to admit, that when you see enough movies things can get a little predictable…at least until they don’t.
While a movie like Before I Fall looks like your typical teenage angst filled tripe, it actually manages to unfurl some pretty interesting layers to make it just a little bit more than what we see at first glance.
Before I Fall is the story of Sam (Zoey Deutch) who seemed to have everything a teenage girl could want; popularity, a hot boyfriend, fun friends, loving family and at least on the outside what seems to be a happy existence, however beyond the superficial, Sam’s life wasn’t so charmed. Her clique of mean girls made life hellish at school for anyone a little different from them but fate intercedes and when she’s killed in a car accident on the way home from a party, Sam is forced to relive her last day on Earth in order to get things right. She attempts to make sense of what befell her and gain a better understanding of herself, others and how everyone should be treated.
Using the morality trap of a Groundhog Day storytelling device; Before I Fall in spite of a few glitches does manage to be a fascinating little lesson for the teen set on treating people the way that you want to be treated. It skips any sort of overt heavy handedness, allowing us to be emotionally invested in the lead character as she traverses this emotional crossroads.
With director Ry Russo-Young working from a script by Maria Maggenti we do get a narrative that begins to unfurl much like you would expect as pretty and thoughtful teenage woman drives with her friends to school talking about how many roses they are going to get on Valentine’s (or Cupid’s Day) as they refer to it, but it is also smartly laying the frame work for what is ahead. As much as we like the character of Sam, we also know that in this universe she really is the lesser of two evils as her and her friends operate like the standard mean girl click that we always expect in movies with this kind of feel and that’s where Young & Maggenti make a great little deviation from the norm.
Rather than bombard us with a morality play of why these mean girls were horrible, the narrative allows it to be a journey of self discovery. Granted some of these days that she is forced to live over don’t always play out all that great as we are forced to wade through the occasional logic jump and clunky plot point, but it always keeps in mind the destination and doesn’t get bogged down in the journey. It’s a moody, often dark yet still beautifully shot film that allows us as audience to appreciate the gravitas of any one given moment while still keeping an entertaining tone throughout the entire picture. This coming of age teen drama really shouldn’t work as well as it does considering some of the more predictable plot points but it is anchored by a truly memorable performance.
Star Zoey Deutch doesn’t necessarily stand out in the opening minutes of the film as it takes her a minute to really get going. However once she is on her journey and realizes what is happening and what has happened to her, she peels off the layers of an onion of a very complex character who has to take her emotional concerns from somewhat vapid and shallow, to poignant and emotional. She sells us on Sam’s life and how she has to come to terms with trying to make it at least a slightly better one. Sadly none of the ensemble around her really get anything to work with as her friends are mostly dramatic props and only the misunderstood misfit played by Liv Hewson and Logan Miller as Sam’s grade school unrequited love get any moments to shine.
Don’t dismiss Before I Fall at first glance as it actually is more than the sum of its parts thanks to some genuine cinematic overachieving and it works for all ages on multiple levels.