Before I Fall: Groundhog Day for the Tweenage Crowd
Let’s start with the obvious. If you’ve seen the trailer, and you’re aware of the iconic film Groundhog Day (if you’re not, go watch it immediately), you know where this film is going. Our protagonist, Samantha (Sam) Kingston (played by Zoey Deutch), is a typical mean girl (yes, like the “plastics” in Mean Girls). Her family is wealthy, as are her best friends’ families, and they all live in idyllic mansions somewhere in the equally idyllic Pacific Northwest. Sam is a senior in high school and she and her friends are generally pretty nasty and judgmental. At the end of the day, February 12th or “Cupid Day” at the school, Sam and her friends are in a horrific car wreck. Sam wakes up in her own bed, thinking it’s the morning of February 13th, but she is shocked to discover that, in fact, she has gone back in time and wakes up on the morning of the 12th again. Over the course of the film, Sam realizes what she needs to do to get out of her loop, which generally entails becoming a nice person. Sound familiar? Yes, in many ways this is the teenage girl version of Groundhog Day, but you get a cute girl in the place of Bill Murray.
The film is based on the young-adult novel of the same name, written by Lauren Oliver. The book had fairly positive reviews, despite the obvious plot line, and there are some definite positives to the film, along with the negatives. Please note, there are spoilers ahead.
SPOILERS – Skip to “In Conclusion” if you’d like to avoid them.
Sam is forced to reevaluate her relationships with everyone around her, including her mean girl friends. Rather than just ditch them, she recognizes the impact that they have on each other, and the bond that they share. She comes to appreciate them for who they are, while still calling them out on their meaner moments. Friendship among girls is important to see in film, and Before I Fall could have easily tossed these girls to the wayside in favor of the love interest (more on that later).
Second, there was a surprising amount of character development for the supporting cast. The film gives you tidbits about a number of characters including Sam’s best friend Lindsay (played by Halston Sage), her sister Izzy (Erica Tremblay), and Juliet, the target of much of the girls’ bullying (Elena Kampouris). These bits of information help to show how these characters matter to Sam, and further along her story.
Finally, the story and the script are concise. Clocking in at one hour, thirty-nine minutes, the film doesn’t try to make its simple story into something more. Rather than add time through meandering scenes and secondary plot lines, the film stays the course and keeps you engaged from beginning to end.
The biggest issue here are those glaring high school stereotypes. Sam and her friends, like the popular girls in many a film, are into partying and drinking and sex. The targets of their bullying were a lesbian girl and a quiet painter who hid behind her hair most of the time. There’s the hot young teacher, annoying little sister, and the clueless parents. And, of course, Lindsay’s father left, resulting in her DGAF attitude.
Next is the love interests. At the beginning of the film, Sam is dating the stereotypical hot popular guy who really isn’t into her, and then later, she realizes that he isn’t worth her time, and she makes a grand romantic gesture to the childhood friend who has been in love with her the entire movie, despite the fact that she treated him like garbage. If there was any part of the story that could have been left out, it was definitely this.
Finally, there’s the ending. You see, Sam is the “nice” one of the group, a point that is obvious from the beginning. So it’s not a big stretch for her to actually be a nicer person by the end. While she finds redemption in helping the two bullied girls, her friends never pay for their acts. And… the biggest spoiler of them all: Sam dies at the end, after making the necessary changes to her life. Sam’s friends are not there to witness her death, nor the events leading up to it, so what impetus do they have to change? What impact has Sam had on anyone at the end?
In Conclusion: (spoiler free below)
Thanks to some redeeming features such as the depiction of friendship and a neat story, Before I Fall is by no means a waste of time. The story is well crafted and beautifully filmed, despite that blue filter that let’s you know this film is a drama and the Pacific Northwest is grey. The acting is good enough to not be distracting and the cast believable for their age groups. The story line has heart, and Sam does manage to find redemption through being nicer to EVERYONE, not just one or two people. But the high school stereotyping and the final moments prevent this film from being a truly good one.
2.5 high school parties out of 5.
Before I Fall opens nationwide March 3rd. Special thanks to gofobo for the passes to this screening.