“So much time you can bathe in it. So much time you can waste it.”
The real shocking thing about Before I Fall is that unlike most movies and dissimilar from most people, it’s a perceptive film that appreciates the preciousness of time. Take a second and look closely at those around you. It shouldn’t be long before you see eyes glued to cellphones or hear long conversations lacking meaning or substance. Our materialistic society mistakenly labels time like everything else we consume – a commodity. Pair that with an American avarice and we’re left like a nest of hatchlings, swallowing up the clock as if it were another offering at a full-service buffet. Time isn’t a commodity, nor is it just a vague construct. It’s a way to measure the passage of a life. Before I Fall recognizes such a definition, and I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by its maturity.
Senior Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch, an actress on the brink of stardom) wakes up to Big Data’s song “Dangerous” as her phone alarm, skipping breakfast and goodbyes as she’s collected by a carpool of friends. Lindsay (Halston Sage) drives this pack around, leading these pretty wolves with a hateful agenda. Ally (Cynthy Wu) plays the know it all. Elody (Medalion Rahimi) is the well-known partier of the bunch. It’s Cupid Day at their Pacific Northwest high school, each girl expecting to receive plenty of roses from suitors who don’t have a shot (their red roses are the equivalent of social media hounds hunting for a “like”; all for the ego and half-heartedly reciprocated). Sam only wants one from her boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley). It’s to be their special night, with Samantha ditching virgin status at a party hosted by her old friend Kent (Logan Miller). Then Juliet (Elena Kampouris), the school outcast and the target of the clique’s hatred, arrives and a fight breaks out. Frazzled and their beer buzz gone, the girls head home. They hit something, the car goes rolling, and Samantha wakes up in her bed.
It’s the same day. And again after that. Waking up to repeat it over and over with no shake up. By utilizing this Groundhog Day formula and drawing inspiration from such films as Heathers and Mean Girls and The Butterfly Effect, the story achieves something rather ingenious. So many high school movies settle for stereotypes rather than full-bodied characters. Here we have the bitch, the priss, the drunk, the conformist. The first three of the young women are unknowingly part of this repetition, and thus allowed to exist on the surface level. In a typical narrative they’d be deemed underwritten whereas in this story they’re sad telegraphs of expected disappointment. Not Samantha, though. Once coming to terms with her situation, the conformist becomes the outlier, experiencing all five stages of denial while challenging the norm. She up-ends the cafeteria hierarchy, denounces bullying, and learns to candidly express affection. Before I Fall has shades of predictable mystery plotlines, doesn’t have defined rules and is a bit too romanticized for the picture’s tone or my liking, but its magnanimous message is unquestionably worthwhile for today’s egocentric culture.
If Harold Ramis’ classic is tethered to some cosmic wormhole, then director Ry Russo-Young’s take lands more in the religious realm. Questions of Heaven and Hell are raised, with which comes the consideration of Purgatory. Where/when is Samantha, and why? You half expect it to become a movie dependent upon waking up from a head blow only to realize that all is right and internal change has occurred, similar to It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey begging to live again. That’s not this movie. Russo-Young’s muted color palette (especially a crucial red-stained scene likened to that of Brian De Palma’s Carrie) announces a trajectory all its own. One where actions happen and matter and are bound to a sense of fatalism already upheld by two hard covers yet still awaiting a suitable and satisfactory story to fills its pages. Contrary to the popular aphorism, Before I Fall understands that you can’t kill ’em with kindness, but that you can heal and potentially cure with its holistic nature. This ranks among the best high school films I’ve seen in a long time.
“What you do today matters.”
Rating: 4 out of 5