Review: 'Before I Fall', Starring Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, and Logan Miller

Note: This is a reprint of my review from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Young adult novels have kind of transcended and have turned into their own genre. Before I Fall, based on author Lauren Oliver’s book of the same name, follows one character as she relives her day over and over. Marketed as a cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, Before I Fall builds toward and creates its own sense of self. It takes on themes of bullying, what it means to be a good person, and also what it means to have character. Director Ry Russo-Young examines the characters, the mystery lurking around the corner, and the realization that many spend their lives knocking people down in order to feel better about their own lives.

Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is really excited about Cupid's Day, which to the rest of us is called Valentine’s Day. A senior in high school, Samantha has convinced her slacker boyfriend (Kian Lawley) to buy roses that are delivered during class and is ready to lose her virginity to him. Sam is in a situation where you can’t possibly fathom why she’s wasted so much time on a guy who is obviously unconcerned with being with her and treats her like crap.

She and her best friends--Lindsay (Halston Sage), Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and Ally (Cynthy Wu)--are the popular mean girls and are constantly bullying their classmate, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). After being invited to a party hosted by Kent (Logan Miller), someone who secretly likes and is simultaneously ignored by Samantha, things get out of hand between Juliet and the four friends. In an accident that’s caused by an unknown source later in the night, Samantha wakes up to relive the same day over again, stuck in a time loop she can’t find her way out of.

Initially, the group of friends come across as obnoxious and the kind you’d never want to hang out with. They’re mean-spirited, self-involved and entitled. At first, it makes it very difficult to like or care about any of them. Halston Sage’s character in particular is the hardest to sympathize with, even after we learn more about why she is the way she is. The teens all come from rich households and rooting for them (mostly because of their snobbish and elitist behavior) doesn’t come easy.

It isn’t until after the accident that Samantha, as a more layered person, begins to take shape. At first, she’s confused by what’s happening. Every day thereafter, Samantha learns more about herself, her family, her friends and discovers secrets that she wouldn’t have otherwise known or even questioned had she not lived the same day over. One of things that doesn’t make the film boring is the fact that everyday is different. Not just that Samantha changes one thing or tries to live it differently, but she has a different mood and feelings everyday she wakes up. She spends one day with her sister, another angry at her friends and the fact that Lindsay is mean and talks behind their backs, and another trying to talk to Juliet. All of this extra time makes her realize that, all along, she was missing all of the important pieces of the story that eventually led to the accident.

The film isn’t without its issues. For one, it’s pretty humorless and takes itself too seriously in certain respects. It leans into its melodrama on occasion and at the very end, Samantha becomes a little bit too savior-ish and simplifies just how to save Juliet after years of being stepped on and hurt. However, the film does a decent job of unraveling its characters and making them full-fledged humans even though they aren’t always likable and their meanness often can’t be ignored.

Samantha doesn’t always do what’s best, some of the other characters are a bit too one-dimensional, the romance moves a bit too fast in the finale, and Lindsay’s backstory is a little too glossed over; but there’s still lots of character development for Samantha and it's especially noticeable when she begins to question why she and her friends do and act the way they do. There is an end to her journey and most of the film’s major questions answered in the film’s final moments. Zoey Deutch gives a layered performance and is able to strongly carry the film. Before I Fall examines what it means to ultimately be a good person and the effects of bullying in a time-loop story that has a bit more depth than the average young adult adaptation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5