Living in a perpetual loop does not sound appealing at all, but living in a loop that ends in disaster sounds horrific, but that is what happens to Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) in “Before I Fall.” Directed by Ry Russo-Young and written Maria Maggenti, Before I Fall gives us shamelessly senseless arrogance and squeezes from it a surprisingly smart and stirring examination of contemporary teenage angst, attitude, and anxieties. A mix of “Groundhog Day,” “Mean Girls” and “Final Destination,” Russo-Young and Maggeniti’s film is not without flaws. Thankfully none are completely fatal.
Samantha wakes up to her phone alarm one morning, near Valentine’s Day, meets up with her three best friends – Lindsey (Halston Sage), Elody (Medalion Rahimi) and Ally (Cynthy Wu), rides to school, where she is given rose after rose from admirers, rejects an old friend and teases an awkward classmate, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). Later, at a party, drinking, smoking, more drama and a run-in with the target of their previous teasing all lead to Samantha and her pals carelessly careening down a rain-soaked road where they crash into an oncoming truck. It is easy to guess the outcome here, but then Samantha wakes up again, on the same morning. She tries several situations to save herself and her friends, each leading to the same consequences until finally, she figures it all out. Her epiphany takes her through several evolutions of herself, including one where she is dumped by her popular friends and going Goth among other situations.
Little is fresh in the premise, but this cast meshes well and Deutch carries her part well. Sage, too, plays callous and uncaring with seething ease. We have seen much of the story over and over and over again in teen movie after teen movie and we have met these characters before. Certainly, originality is not the film’s strength, but Russo-Young’s blending of the various coming-of-age elements and his overall execution of the plot looping is. There is a surprising draw to these characters and their story as it evolves in its various forms. Pacing plays a role too and it is nearly perfect. It is the combination of these unique components that make “Before I Fall” unexpectedly compelling.
A great deal can be gleaned from Maggenti’s messages. She gets to the heart of timely themes, and with this cast and Russo-Young’s direction, any staleness in story and characters lingers into the shadows. All of these positive elements combine to make for an interesting enough watch. Regardless, because of its déjà vu feel, it is difficult to give more than a C+ for the PG-13-rated “Before I Fall,” so that’s what it earns.