FILM REVIEW – BEFORE I FALL. With Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, Elena Kampouris, Logan Miller. Written by Maria Maggenti. Directed by Ry Russo-Young. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens.. 99 minutes.
BEFORE I FALL is a time loop story and hits all the expected beats. What’s a time loop story? Think “Groundhog Day” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” where a character repeats a period of time–usually a day–over and over again. The character trapped in the time loop goes from confusion to breaking all the rules to accumulating knowledge to setting things right.
This time out it’s Samantha (Zoey Deutch), a high school senior who is part of a group of girlfriends who are this film’s version of the Plastics from “Mean Girls.” They’re full of themselves and are cruel to everyone who’s not them. As we go through the day, Samantha is dismissive of her family and classmate Kent (Logan Miller), a childhood friend who is hosting a party that night. They make fun of oddball students like Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who is the particular target of Samantha’s friend Lindsay (Halston Sage), the leader of their clique. And she’s getting ready to lose her virginity to her hot boyfriend. Not everything works out as expected but she loses consciousness in a car accident on the way home from the party, waking up in her own bed and discovering she’s about to live the entire day over again.
Although the plot follows the time loop formula, it’s not about an adult romance or stopping an alien invasion. Instead, the movie is about Samantha’s moral education. Instead of blowing off her family, she starts making time for her young sister and actually expressing her love for her parents. We learn about her history with Kent and that he’s much better for her than the egotistical boyfriend her friends think is the perfect match because he’s “hot.” And she starts reaching out to the girls she’s been cruel to and–surprise–finds out they’re real people who don’t deserve the treatment they’ve had to endure.
For the teen and tween girls who are presumably the film’s target audience, that’s not a bad message, and Deutch is believable as the attractive girl who gets caught up in her popularity but starts to realize her priorities are wrong. As a high school movie, this isn’t up there with “Mean Girls” or “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but it’s also not one of those movies that thinks it should be about sex, drugs, booze, and bodily fluids. The problem, as with another recent teen film, “The Space Between Us,” is that it doesn’t so much conclude as merely stop.
Without giving anything away, the movie gets us to a dramatic revelation that is a fitting payoff to Samantha’s learning about the ramifications of her actions, but then doesn’t tell us what happens next. Is she trapped in the loop forever? If so, her moral education is meaningless. Worse, while she accrues experience, for everyone else each day is a reset with no memory of previous iterations, so–for example–her skipping the party to have a heartwarming family dinner has no lasting impact on the rest of her family. And if it ends as the film seems to imply, then one is left with the unsettling answer as to what the penalty should be for being an obnoxious teenager. What was needed was some indication that she’s gotten out of the loop, but is now a better person for the experience. That’s the ending we don’t get.
“Before I Fall” is adequate entertainment for the current crop of teens and tweens, but it’s not one that their younger siblings will be wanting to see a few years from now.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.