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Saturday, March 04, 2017

Before I Fall

This is one of those movies that probably shouldn't work, but it does, thanks to a strong lead performance and some moments throughout the film that truly resonate.  Before I Fall is more or less a Young Adult dramatic take on Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day, with perhaps a bit of Mean Girls tossed in.  Outside of its obvious inspirations, which it doesn't even attempt to hide, it does manage to take on a life of its own before it ends, and I found myself caught up in what was going on.

The plot (which is based on a popular novel by Lauren Oliver) centers on a popular and pretty high school senior named Sam, who is played by rising young actress Zoey Deutch.  She's been in movies for a couple years now, most notably playing the main character's potential girlfriend in last year's Everybody Wants Some!!, but aside from the very mediocre 2014 film Vampire Academy, she hasn't had a main role to my knowledge.  Here, she shows a real screen presence, and while she does look a bit old to be playing a high school student, she still manages to sell a convincing performance.  I liked watching her, and I truly hope she can get some interesting adult characters very soon.  Her character starts the film off as somewhat of a shallow "Queen Bee" of her high school.  She travels everywhere with her small pack of obnoxiously pretty and equally shallow friends, and basically doesn't seem to be too concerned about what's going to happen after high school is over, although she does at one point ask her friends if they think they will remember anything that's happened to them during this time a few years from now.

Of the girls Sam does hang out with, she seems to be the "nice one", or at least the one who is the least stuck up.  However, she does join her friends in tormenting and teasing the school recluse Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who hides her face behind long, messy hair, and who is obviously holding a lot of private pain in her home and personal life.  Every day for Sam starts the same, as she wakes up to catch a ride to school with her best girlfriend, Lindsay (Halston Sage).  On this particular day, Sam is excited.  It's February 12th, the Friday before Valentine's Day, which means its "Cupid Day" at school, where students send roses to each other.  In other words, it's a day where the popular kids compete to see how many roses they get, while those who are not part of the "in crowd" are painfully reminded that no one notices them.  There's also going to be a party that night, where Sam is planning to lose her virginity to the guy she's been dating the past year (Kian Lawley).  This is all that matters in Sam's self-centered little world, as she generally brushes off her family and anyone who is not in her inner circle.

However, the night does not go as planned.  Not only does her boyfriend end up getting drunk and throwing up in the sink instead of making love to her, but Juliet happens to show up at the party, and a fight breaks out among the girls.  After leaving the party, Sam and her friends are driving down a lonely road late at night, and end up getting in a tragic accident with a truck, which supposedly kills all of them.  However, the next thing you know, Sam is waking up in her bed.  It's the morning of Friday, February 12th, it's 6:30 AM, her family is trying to wake her up, and Lindsay is waiting outside to take her to school, and wants to talk about the party that's to come that night.  Sam is naturally confused, and the day unfolds just like it did before, leading up to that tragic crash.  And then, she wakes up again - Same day, same events.  Sam tries to change things, hoping that maybe not going to the party will prevent their deaths and she can end this loop.  But, even when things change, she still wakes up on the morning of February 12th. 

Compared to Groundhog Day, the movie doesn't have as much fun with its premise of the main character repeating the same day.  Sam doesn't quite exploit the potential of doing things differently during the same day like Bill Murray did in the earlier film, although she does go through a brief phase where she just doesn't care anymore, and dresses however she chooses to school.  This is a bit of a letdown, but eventually Before I Fall does start to have more on its mind and begins to take shape.  Sam begins to wonder if there's something she's supposed to be doing during this constant loop.  It takes Sam a while to figure it out, even though it's painfully obvious to the audience.  However, what kept my interest was Deutch's performance, as well as some genuinely good moments that happen throughout.  I liked the shy relationship that builds between her and Kent (Logan Miller), a boy she used to be friends with in childhood, and she has since moved on from, although he has always had a soft spot for her.  The movie also has some real dramatic power in its final moments, which ends everything on a strong note.

This is not a subtle movie, and the screenplay by Maria Maggenti can be a bit moralizing at times.  But I surprisingly found myself won over by the characters and what was happening to them.  I started to care about Sam, and I wanted to see her succeed and rebuild her life.  That's really what is riding on making this movie a success, I think.  We've obviously seen this plot of repeating the same day over and over until the main character gets it right and learns a life lesson or two along the way before, so the best thing this film can do is make us care about who it is happening to, which it does.  There's nothing earth-shattering about this movie, but I was gradually won over by it.  It also features a bright young cast outside of the lead performance, many of whom I hope I will see in other roles before too long.

Before I Fall is a movie that manages to rise above its familiar concept.  It's always nice when a movie manages to surprise you and win you over, despite the fact it doesn't give you a very confident feeling early on.  And hey, at least it's not yet another Young Adult movie set in a dystopian society.  That's always something to be thankful for.

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