Time travel has a way of taking a familiar setting and adding a layer of intrigue that would otherwise not be there. The stories where a character travels back in time provide the most interesting premise because, not only are you thrusting a person into seemingly unknown territory, you are increasing the risk that any change that is made may devastate the established future or present. When something in the past is altered, you are instantly anticipating how that will impact the main characters and everything else surrounding them.
A time loop, on the other hand, removes the risk of consequences. You no longer have to worry about the next day and can focus on the minutiae of your life and the lives around you. Time loops are often tales of regret and overcoming flaws in a person’s character. More importantly they force our main character to be the audience in their own movie and reflect on the mistakes they’ve made, which they continue to make as a result of arrogance, self-righteousness, or just being too busy to care. It also provides some comedy by turning the story into a cinematic Mad Libs. What would happen if we insert this line of dialogue into the scene instead of this one? Groundhog Day gave us insight into that scenario from the perspective of an adult man. It was a perfect combination of heart and hilarity, making us care about Phil and also letting us enjoy his descent into madness without guilt or discomfort. The latest film to toy with this premise offers plenty of heart, but isn’t as compelling.
In Before I Fall, directed by Ry Russo-Young, Sam(Zoey Deutch) is a high school girl who enjoys hanging out with her three best friends and teasing anyone they don’t relate to. She also has a strained relationship with her parents and doesn’t give her little sister the time of day. Sam has decided to lose her virginity at a house party with her boyfriend, but fate has other plans. After a particularly tense moment, Sam and her friends decide to leave the party and drive home in the middle of the night, suffering a fatal car accident. When Sam opens her eyes, however, she is back in bed and discovers she is reliving that same day over again. Unable to escape this curse of chronal repetition, Samantha must learn to make better choices so she can at least end the day without regret.
I enjoyed seeing this recognizable premise done from the perspective of a teenage girl and how that translated into her actions and decisions. Much of the fun was seeing Sam’s interactions with her friends and how they responded to her new dialogue. The trial and error aspect brought the most entertainment to the film and gave life to the scenes.
Where the film struggles is how predictable Sam’s story turns out to be. You can easily anticipate where the movie is leading you; and that’s unfortunate considering we are dealing with time travel and anything goes. I have to mention Groundhog Day again because it follows the same, predictable character arch, but where it succeeds is in the acting and the script. In Before I Fall, the most compelling character, Sam, just isn’t interesting enough to keep our attention. Zoey Duetch is serviceable in the role she was given, but we don’t get a good strong character to follow throughout the movie.
The script may be the weakest part of this movie because it makes all the other actors, who are all doing a pretty decent job, look like generic supporting characters. I suppose their lack of dimension can be attributed to them being high school students, but Edge of Seventeen is a recent example of how all the characters can be interesting, enhance the story, and make you want to keep watching until the end. Everybody should have had better dialogue and a more fleshed out screen presence because we have to hear the same lines a dozen times in this movie. It may be Sam’s story, but there are other stories within this movie that are being focused on and they should have been expanded upon more instead of being used as a backdrop for some grand finale.
Before I Fall is a good film for teenagers to enjoy and take a lesson from. The consequences of bullying and apathy are tackled well and Zoey Deutch is good as Sam. Logan Miller is also good as the old childhood friend that pines for Sam. I can’t say I highly recommend you watch this in the theaters, but it would be a nice rental. Much like the movie If I Stay, it tends to take itself too seriously and make the scenes melancholy and drab. I would have preferred more humor and a better developed high school environment for us to play in. If we are stuck having to go to school over and over again, at least make it worth our while.
BEFORE I FALL:
About Before I Fall
Synopsis: February 12 is just another day in Sam’s charmed life until it turns out to be her last. Stuck reliving her last day over one inexplicable week, Sam untangles the mystery around her death and discovers everything she’s in danger of losing.
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Writer: Maria Maggenti
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Liv Hewson, Jennifer Beals, Logan Miller, Halston Sage, Elena Kampouris, Erica Tremblay
Runtime: 1 Hour, 39 Minutes