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Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is your average high school senior in the best possible way without being a walking archetype. She's mostly nice to be around, marginally outgoing, but she's also a bit selfish, an occasional bully, and victim to the kind of mean girl groupthink thanks to her somewhat domineering best friend Lindsay (Halston Sage). It's "Cupid Day" at her high school, where the most popular girls get roses from their crushes and the outcasts, such as the lesbian student Anna (Liv Hewson) and the social pariah Juliet (Elena Kampouris), get nothing but another day to remind them that they're unwanted.
To celebrate, Samantha, Lindsay, and their two other girlfriends plan on hitting up Kent's (Logan Miller) party, where Samantha plans on having sex with her current boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley). The four have a great night, but leave after Juliet causes a huge scene after confronting Samantha and her girlfriends about their persistent bullying. While driving home, the girls are involved in a rollover car accident but Samantha wakes up unharmed and unaffected, as she turns over to her iPhone to realize it's "Cupid Day" once again, as if nothing happened.
This triggers a "Groundhog Day" series of events that have Samantha reliving the same day repeatedly, regardless of whether or not she sticks to the script of how the day should go or completely alters its course. She has her days where she completely acts in rebellion to her parents and other days she spends talking to people she didn't give the time of day, like Kent, who is responsible for giving her one of two roses on this special school day.
Before I Fall
Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu
3 March 2017
Steve's Grade: C+
There's also a scene where Samantha and Anna literally trade shoes, Samantha giving up her high-heeled shoes for Anna's black-leather boots with metal straps, to, you know, gauge what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes for a change.
Before I Fall is filled with some hokey, young adult movie moments, and it's another film of the genre that functions within its inherent anomaly (films about high schoolers can never be wholly authentic in dialog and sex due their ratings having to make them accessible to their target audience). And yet, there's intrigue this time around and a commendable level of suspense. Zoey Deutch's first big leading role where she's actually given a character to work it turns out to function quite nicely thanks to her spirited performance and her willingness to give screenwriter Maria Maggenti's more realistic depiction of high school females a true-to-life edge.
There is also a method to the madness regarding the film's "Groundhog Day" premise that is subtle enough to work without being too overtly obvious. The oppressively bleak and melancholic visuals of the film may get old and droning (lots of grays, blacks, and teals owning the screen, sometimes all at once, can bog down the viewer), but for the most part, Maggenti knows how to assure her premise is at least sparking the kind of mystery that's necessary for a film like this.
In addition to Deutch, the performances across the board are surprisingly serviceable. You have a terrific and complex portrayal of what the effects of bullying and depression look like from Elena Kampouris (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2), who is careful not to caricaturize those details. Meanwhile, you have another fairly good performance from Logan Miller (who worked wonders inTake Me to the River and also worked with Halston Sage in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), who comes in late in the game to build another formidable relationship with our lead character.
Before I Fall hardly gives us something worth remembering in the same way A Girl Like Her did, especially when it comes to being a project to detail the effects of bullying and righting wrongs. It shows confidence in the way it sometimes mysteriously handles and obscures the rules of its own premise (what kind of reality are the other characters living in, are they just not as conscious to the repetition as Samantha is?), and that makes its more predictable moments easier to accept. Somebody like me, who sits through several of these films in a given year, doesn't expect such gifted performances like the ones present here, nor the kind of screenwriting that allows these characters to be their flawed, elaborate selves. Before I Fall is confident in that respect and that speaks volumes about how much it respects its characters and, more importantly, its target demographic.