Before I Fall and all the images you see in this review are owned by Open Road Films
Directed by Ry Russo-Young
Oh look! It’s that movie that looks like that one movie that came out two decades ago! Okay, so maybe it’s not a TOTALLY original concept, but it at least looks more interesting than other YA novel adaptations like Divergent or The 5th Wave, and it does so without having to be set in the apocalypse! The trailers seem to be leaning into the central conceit of the movie, and while it still has that YA aesthetics that look more drab and cheap than anything else, there seems like there’s some more effort thrown into this one than you’d typically expect. Does this manage to rise above its peers and be one of the better examples of the genre, or are they just getting better at marketing these kinds of films to the general public? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) waking up on CUPID DAY which is NOT Valentine’s Day because these super hip and cool teenagers say so… even though it’s celebrated exactly the same way; down to the roses being handed out which I’m sure by any other name would still make this Valentine’s Day. Anyway, she’s going through her day like it was any other; hanging out with her friends Lindsay, Ally, and Elody (Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi), dodging the creepy kid who’s been pining after her for years (Logan Miller) and making out with her boyfriend (Kian Lawley) who’s honestly not much of a prize considering the dude wears his baseball cap backwards AT ALL TIMES. Still, thing seem to be going fine in their lives and the four of them go to a party that night at the creepy kids place in celebration of Love Day or whatever the hell this is. Hey, say what you will about his social skills; the dude has an awesome house! The party however turns out to be less awesome because the creepy girl at school Juliet (Elena Kampouris) starts some beef with Samantha’s friend and is swiftly run out of the party by everyone there. Feeling deflated, the four of them leave the party and WHAM! They get in a car crash which… I THINK kills them? Either way, Samantha wakes up the next day… EXCEPT IT’S NOT THE NEXT DAY! She’s stuck in a time loop where she wakes up on the same morning each day and has no idea what it would take to break out of it; if that’s even an option. Can Samantha find a way to escape the purgatory that she’s found herself in? What can she learn by having to repeat the same day over and over again, and is this a wake-up call for her to become a better person? I feel like I’ve seen this in a movie before. Have they done this in a movie before?
So there’s absolutely no way we can avoid the fact that this is the same basic premise as one of the most beloved movies of all time which is of course the Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day where Bill Murray is stuck repeating the same day over again in a small town that he hates on a holiday that he hates even more. The thing is though… I’m actually HAPPY that someone took this premise and put a brand new spin on it. A premise THAT good shouldn’t be limited to one movie, so while I’m glad we didn’t end up getting any sequels or remakes, I’m even MORE glad that we get to see it all over again from a new perspective. That having been said, it’s a bit of a double edged sword as the premise practically writes itself, but trying to do it again will inevitably lead to comparisons to the original which… yeah, this movie is no Groundhog Day. For the first half though, I was pretty optimistic of where this was going and I thought it was hitting all the right beats to take full advantage of the formula. There comes a point though where the story just starts to derail and by the end of the movie I was about to tear my hair out about how tone deaf it ultimately became. Maybe I’m too old to appreciate something like this and it will end up speaking to its target audience the way Twilight and The Hunger Games did when they were ruling the multiplexes, but personally I just wish someone would have taken another pass on the script and realized just how off putting some of the moments are; moments that I’m SURE were in the book as well, but this is why things have to change when you adapt them.
Right off the bat, let’s talk about what works in this movie. For the most part, all the characters in this are interesting and compelling; not just Samantha and her three friends, but most of the bit players at least have SOMETHING worth uncovering as the story goes along. I can’t say for certain what ACTUAL teenager girls are like in this day and age, but the dynamic between our lead and her friends is sharp and their interactions belie the depth that ends up playing out throughout the movie. There’s a lot of deception and peer pressure in these friendships that seem so ideal at first, and yet the movie doesn’t overplay it’s hand in judging them for this behavior which is kind of refreshing and feels a bit more true to life than what you’d normally see where a character will turn out to be EVIL because they lied at least once in their lives. It tries to keep a realistic and sincere tone throughout in regards to how teenagers interact with each other, and while it doesn’t ALWAYS succeed (particularly in the second half) I’d put it up there with The Edge of Seventeen as far as understanding the ups and downs of being at that age.
The time looping mechanic as well is a HUGE positive here, though most of that is due to how inherently fascinating that this particular premise lends itself to be. Think about all the ideas and possibilities that could each be explored in their own movie. What do you do with what is essentially an unlimited amount of time? Is there a mystery that can slowly be uncovered day by day? How would living a life of no consequences affect someone; especially at such a tumultuous time in their life? Like Groundhog Day, the movie manages to cover a little bit of everything, though I do feel that this rushes through a few things that could have stood to be fleshed out a bit. It’s hard for me to pin down, but I guess Groundhog Day was a personal story that takes place in the larger one of the town itself (and what the town represents), while this is a bit unsure of if it wants to be a mystery or if it wants to focus entirely on Samantha. It never really finds that balance as it somehow is too much of both and yet not enough of either at the same time. So much time is focused on Samantha but a lot of the points feel repetitive or belabored, and they skip over a rather important part of this story which is Samantha’s journey of acceptance. To go back to Groundhog Day, we watch Bill Murray’s initial fear, resigned horror, hedonistic excess, obsessive pursuit of petty goals, his deep spiral into depression, and his reformation in the hopes of finding meaning in a situation that feels so meaningless. While I don’t think that they should have gone through THE SAME arcs here, they make the very odd choice of having a narrated montage to skip over the stuff between initial fear and the spiral into depression which skips over a lot of characterization and world building that could have been done. There really isn’t a lot of fun to be had here which you could argue is unfair to a movie that isn’t trying to be a straight up comedy, but still feels like we missed something. I guess it still feels a bit small in scope in that we primarily focus on… five… six days? Something like that? And yet the premise itself (along with Samantha’s narration) indicates that it’s been WAY longer than that. They just TELL us that this much time has passed, yet we don’t really feel it because the pacing doesn’t match the premise. In Groundhog Day, the way scenes were edited together perfectly put you in Bill Murray’s headspace; somewhat disorienting and not focusing too long on one thing because to him it was all meaningless. I get that this is a different movie with different priorities, but what do we gain from taking this approach to the material (blazing through the building futility of their situation) instead of the one that Groundhog Day took? Speaking specifically on how it is edited and paced, it just feels more lethargic here where scenes go on for way longer than necessary and ultimately feel kind of redundant in a world where the meaninglessness of every character’s actions is what this premise is built around.
Now that issue I have with the way the movie is cut together and what it chooses to focus on is kind of annoying, but isn’t what really ended up disappointing me about this movie. The problem is the message at the end and how Samantha’s actions are framed in the finale. Unfortunately, I can’t really say too much about it because it would be a MASSIVE spoiler, but… it’s unfortunate. I get what they’re going for, and maybe in a different movie this could have worked, but in HERE it ends up having the wrong tone and says something that I feel is straight up harmful. Okay, that’s super vague. Um… it romanticizes an action that is ONLY worth praising if you don’t actually know anything about how these situations would play out in real life. I can SEE how the writer of this (either the book it was based on the writer of the screenplay if this wasn’t how the book ended) could think this was a good idea on a first draft, but there should have someone along the way who read over this damn thing and pointed out how THIS ending combined with THIS premise can be read in an extremely sketchy light. All that said, even if my interpretation is COMPLETELY wrong and I’m missing some grander point here, well… Groundhog Day ended up doing it better. They’re TOTALLY different endings I will grant you, but ONE of them actually feels like the capstone to a complete arc about finding meaning in life, and the other one is… not. It has more in common with a twist ending even if it’s not EXACTLY that and the movie just doesn’t feel like it was earned.
I really hate being a buzzkill on this considering how much I was genuinely enjoying it for the first half, but it just couldn’t manage to pull everything together and by the end it just falls flat on its face. Take away the comparisons to Groundhog Day and it probably holds up a bit better, but this movie doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s not like we don’t already judge movies against other ones; it’s just not usually THIS specific. It’s worth seeing, especially if my specific complaints don’t sound like they would bother you all that much, but I would hedge your bets and wait for the home release. Hell, if you do THAT you could watch both movies at the same time and make some awesome Magnolia style supercut!
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Before I Fall (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD)