Before I Fall
★ ★ ☆
“Before I Fall,” a new supernatural thriller based on the young adult novel of same name by Lauren Oliver, is essentially an anti-bullying “It gets better” advertisement stretched to feature length.
Zoey Deutch is Sam, high school senior and along with Lindsay (Halston Sage), Allison (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), one of a quartet of mean girls. “Till death do us part,” they chant in a clumsy bit of foreshadowing. Best friends, Lindsay says, they’ve “kissed the hottest boys, gone to the sickest parties” and, since grade five made the lives of those they deemed less cool miserable. One such classmate is Juliet (Elena Kampouris), an outsider they nicknamed Mellow Yellow after a long ago camp bed wetting.
On Valentine’s Day the four attend a wild house party but things don’t go exactly as planned. On what was supposed to be Sam’s big night with her boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley), he gets drunk and flirts with other girls. Worse, Juliet shows up to confront her tormentors. When the situation gets out of control the foursome storm out, piling into Lindsay’s SUV. Minutes later the vehicle veers off the road and spins through the air. All are killed.
Or are they?
The next morning Sam wakes up in her bed with a bad case of Déjà vu. It’s once again Valentine’s Day morning and she seems to be reliving the day all over again. “I feel I'm still dreaming,” she says, perplexed. “Or was yesterday a dream?” Is she destined to relive the worst day of her life over and over? Or can she change her fate? The opportunity to revisit the day brings with it some perspective on the way she has lived her life. Out go the eye rolls, in comes a wave of empathy. “Maybe everything done could be undone,” she says. “Maybe things could change and I could change them. If I had to live the same day over and over I would make it a worthy day… but not just for me.”
Like the time travelling child of “Groundhog Day” and “Mean Girls” (but without Bill Marie or Rachel McAdams), “Before I Fall” is a study of teen angst magnified by a glitch in time. For its young adult audience it will likely raise questions about tolerance, bullying and behaviour. Those for whom high school is a long distant memory may have a harder time finding a great deal of depth in Sam’s revelations.
As portrayed in the film Sam has some edge—she’s not very nice to her sister and ignores her parents—but her journey from sinner to saint might have had more oomph if we had seen more of her terrible behaviour. As it is Lindsay is the true mean girl and yet we’re never really sure what happens to her. “Before I Fall” is a redemption story about a teen who doesn’t seem as much mean as she does moody. Hollywood doesn’t like to make movies where the lead is unlikable but in this case it would have added to Sam’s story of salvation.
Deutch is a likable (perhaps too likable) presence and the story has good and timely messages about bullying, teen suicide and the cause and effect of high school life, but “Before I Fall” needs more edge to be truly cutting. Also, since this isn’t an episode of “Star Trek” I’ll forgive the disregard for the space-time continuum rules.
2 ½ STARS