Before I Fall **

Adaptation of the successful YA novel strands its intriguing premise with so-so execution and few surprises.

Is it worth $10? No

“What you do today matters,” the narration in the beginning of “Before I Fall” tells us. We soon learn the reason for urgency: The main character, a teenager named Sam (Zoey Deutch), is about to die in a horrible car accident with three of her friends. If it’s your last day on earth, how would you spend it?

It’s certainly a compelling question, and one that director Ry Russo-Young only does a so-so job of answering. Imagine “Groundhog Day” as a teenage girl drama and you have the premise: Each time Sam and her friends Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu), and Elody (Medalion Rahimi) die in the accident, Sam wakes up in her bed to start the day all over again. Why only she relives the day is never explained. You can’t help but want to know why her friends don’t experience the same phenomena, but this is where we must allow the premise to work on its own terms.

It does work – to an extent. Sam goes through the expected process of discovery, frustration, trial & error, freedom and then liberation. There are curves along the way but no huge surprises, leading to an ending that isn’t logically consistent or satisfying. You’re always engaged while watching “Before I Fall,” but that alone doesn’t make it good.

Some of the disconnect for this middle-aged male reviewer comes early on upon realizing these are bratty rich girls who love one another and their boyfriends, yet apparently hate everyone else. They’re catty, spoiled and nasty to most everyone, all while calling one another “bitches” and having drinking and Sam losing her virginity as their utmost priorities. This may ring truthful for teenagers, but they’re not exactly redeeming qualities that endear us to protagonists.

For example, they’re downright awful to Juliette (Elena Kampouris), a girl they refer to as “psycho” because she dresses like a vagabond and doesn’t speak. The only gay character in the film, Anna (Liv Hewson), is ostracized for being different. At the start Sam prefers bad boy Rob (Kian Lawley) to the cute/geeky guy (Logan Miller) who has a crush on her, so you know where that’s heading as she seeks redemption. And we may expect teenage Sam to be mean to her parents (Jennifer Beals and Nicholas Lea), but she’s even mean to her little sister (Erica Tremblay)! The various characters’ importance have anywhere from a small to big payoff, but when you know what’s coming it’s hard for it to feel fulfilling.

The film is based on the popular YA novel of the same name by Lauren Oliver, and it screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Surely somebody somewhere saw virtues in “Before I Fall,” and when making the case that teenage girls could benefit from seeing it, I’m inclined to agree. I just don’t think there’s much here for anyone else. 

Did you know?
In Oliver’s book Sam relives the day of her death for a week; the movie gives the impression she relives it for much longer.

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