BEFORE I FALL, US, 2017. Starring Zoe Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals. Directed by Ry Rosso-Young. 99 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language)
Before I Fall is based on a novel for young adult readers, principally female young readers.
The film opens with the repetition of sequences that remind audiences of Mean Girls, a group of teenagers who are very sure of themselves on the surface, relying on one another and a leader to validate their self-image, critical of others, catty amongst themselves, condemnatory of the girls that they do not approve of.
These opening sequences are a reminder that it is necessary to wait till the end of the film because the tone could well change – and with this one, it does.
Samantha, Zoe Deutch, is at the centre of this film, the I of the title, speaking in voice-over about herself and this special day in February, Cupid’s Day at school, where roses are distributed amongst favoured girls. What Samantha says is rather ominous because it sounds as if something terrible is going to happen to her.
However, we follow her during the day, rather haughty, not wanting to get up, critical of her little sister with her gift of an origami bird, rather neglectful her parents, meeting the girls in her clique, travelling to school, class, the roses, encountering a young man, Kent, in the school corridor, Samantha with a condom because of the plan to connect sexually with boyfriend, Rob, that evening. At the party where they all gather, an isolated girl, Juliet, whom they loathe appears and is ridiculed, running out of the room. Samantha then finds herself in the car and it crashes – only for her to wake up in bed and it is the same day.
And older audiences are remembering Groundhog Day.
Which means that Samantha has to live the day over and over again, the audience noticing the sameness, the differences, Samantha becoming a bit more appropriately self-conscious, seeing through Lindsey, the catty leader of the group, befriending the young man in the corridor – but, basically, the same things again.
And, eventually, this is where the moral of the story comes in. Samantha begins to take stock of herself, critical of her attitudes towards her sister and her mother, becoming nicer to both and to her father, speaking directly to Lindsey and the other girls, befriending Kent and having deep and meaningful discussions with him, learning more about the disliked Juliet and the reasons for the dislike, especially unjust attitudes from Lindsey.
The ending is not quite what we were imagining – but, Samantha has become a better person from her living the same day over and over again, a kind of purgatorial experience for her.
Which means that there is a moral for the young adult audience and a bit of saving grace for the older audience.
Roadshow. Released March 9th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.