Despite everything, ‘Before I Fall’ isn’t bad

By Gary Clift

Hollywood recycles story ideas so often that it can’t be any surprise they’ve gotten around to recycling the story that recycles itself. “Groundhog’s Day” was the original picture. In it a character played by Bill Murray kept waking up to relive the same day over and over again, and no matter what he did to change it, the events remained pretty much the same each time through.

That’s also what happens in “Before I Fall.” It stars Zoey Deutch, the teen imitator. And that would seem conclusive—can’t be a good movie if its central character is a female teen, that being a characteristic of “junior chic flics,” right?
Especially not if the story is as familiar as the one in “Groundhog Day.” Are you with me here?

Well hold on. “Before I Fall” is not without substantial attractions that give it a fair chance at interesting even adult movie fans.

Director Ry Russo-Young, working with a screenplay based on a novel by Lauren Oliver, has relied on voiceover narration (which seems completely unnecessary here except as a nod to cinematic fashion) and has cast the movie in pretty predictable ways. Making Elena Kampouris the depressed bohemian is an example—she’s more attractive than are the girls in the lead’s brat pack.

But the predictable developments don’t arrive in the order we might expect. In re-telling her repeating experiences, Samantha (Deutch) doesn’t recall all the events of each copy of that first day, and she doesn’t stay with just one technique per day for breaking out of the formula.

Basically what happens is this: Samantha lives is some sort of new and wealthy middle- class town in Oregon, where there are trees and hills, architecture with lots of windows, and lots of rain. She awakens one day, shrugs off the attentions of her parents (her mother is played by Jennifer Beal) and her little sister.

She gets into an cushy Jeep driven by teen queen bee Lindsay, who then picks up their other two friends. They are planning a big day of re-establishing their popularity at school, where a charity occasion allows individual roses to be delivered anonymously in class to individual students.

During the school day, Samantha sees and pretty much ignores a tough girl, a pudgy boy (who is hosting a big party at his home that night), and talented, sheik bo-ho Juliet. These are all kids she has known since grade school, but in the parallel universe of high school, she occupies a plateau and they are left to sneer at, admire, and remonstrate against her.

The popular quartet gets dressed for the party. Samantha is disappointed to see her popular beau so drunk he will be no good to her later. Then she is surprised when Juliet arrives, tells the quartet off, and then has beer thrown on her by everyone in the room. Juliet runs off. The foursome gets into the car, and then something on the road happens that causes Samantha to lose consciousness.

She awakens in exactly the way she did the morning before, though she doesn’t have music as good as Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” on her clock-radio. She spends that day pretty much stunned as she sees
event after event repeat itself. It may be that there are two events on the road just before lights out.

The next times through are less complete versions of the day. But Sam tries different ways to shake things up, especially as she begins to see that Juliet is talented and tormented and deserves a little help and that the host boy is really a sweetheart with whom she even shares happy memories.

She tries convincing her co-evals to behave differently. She tries dressing sexy, acting steely, and wearing boots made for walking. She tries everything she can think of until she sees the only way out of the loop. While her solution won’t surprise many viewers, it is a nice tonic for some of the unhappy aspirational details of the girls’ lives and for the run of mindless pop tunes the movie relies on in its first third.

So even through “Before I Fall” probably is directed at teenie boppers, and even if it does rely heavily on a story formula earlier used by a much superior film, the movie is right about the choices available to humans. Consequently, it isn’t a bad entertainment to watch.

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