BEFORE I FALL is like GROUNDHOG DAY if you strip away all the humor, creativity, wit, charisma, and basically anything that one might find remotely interesting. Then replace it with the life of a wealthy, spoiled, mean girl reliving a fairly uneventful day of popularity in high school.
Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is a senior in high school. She wakes up excited to start the day, Valentine’s Day, or as everyone calls it, Cupid’s Day, which was no doubt a working title at one point in the movie making process. Samantha ignores her parents, yells at her little sister for touching her stuff, and rides to school with her three best friends, who all make up a foursome of mean girls. They talk about losing virginity, make fun of less popular kids, and brag about how many roses from secret admirers they might get on this special day. The day concludes with a tragic event from which Samantha wakes up in her bed again, starting the day all over.
The problem is, scratch that, the first of many problems is that Samantha and her friends are so unlikable. The film tries to pretend that Samantha is the good one of the group, who doesn’t initiate the meanness and is probably kind-hearted because she was much sweeter and friendlier as a little girl. The other major issue is that the actions of the day are so completely vanilla. This has got to be the most uninteresting day to repeat and Samantha has zero drive to alter much. Eventually her one big move is dressing provocative, yelling at her friends and testing one of her teachers.
The screenplay from Maria Maggenti chooses to scatter the focus onto many subplots, one just as uninteresting as the next, that briefly deal with Samantha’s loving family, her three besties, her tool of a boyfriend, the sweet admirer, and the poor picked on outcast. Director Ry Russo-Young seems to be fully aware of the dull atmosphere by using muted tones to capture the rather bland mood of the day. I don’t understand how you don’t punch up a script that is so full of clichés and then linger on the monotony.
The ending has a faulty purpose of thinking that Samantha can fix the problems from the day. Sure Samantha is able to change and grow because the repeated day is equal to a long term process. Unfortunately, all the wrongs she’s trying to correct, deal with people who have or will have serious issues still to deal with by the end of the film or singular day. It’s all quite insulting when the characters who are dealing with real problems are meant to be healed by Samantha’s meaningless yet miraculous (and in one case completely unnecessary) actions.
The repeating day idea is a great one. Obviously Bill Murray’s GROUNDHOG DAY is the best. But we’ve seen it be successful outside the comedy genre with the Tom Cruise sci-fi action vehicle EDGE OF TOMORROW. Clearly it’s important to have a charismatic lead to follow into watching variations of the same day. But just as importantly you need to have a story with stakes and creativity worth following. BEFORE I FALL is meant to be a drama, but inadvertently becomes a comedy of awfulness because the horror of taking terrible teenagers seriously on a vicious cycle of the most uninteresting life is enough to make any viewer go mad.