I was truly conflicted after sitting through Before I Fall. On one hand, I completely loathed the first 30 minutes of director Ry Russo-Young’s dark twist on Groundhog Day. On the other, I almost loved the last hour. Unfortunately, Maria Maggenti’s cliche-filled screenplay — adapting Lauren Oliver’s young adult novel — could have pulled a rabbit out of her hat, instead, she simply falls back on exactly what you saw coming from the moment our protagonist wakes up on her first of many replayed days. It’s such a shame, really. What could have wound up as quite the surprise only leaves you walking out of the theater with a bad taste in your mouth.
Samantha (Zoey “daughter of Lea Thompson” Deutch) loves being in high school. Being part of the “Mean Girls” — along with Lindsay (Halston Sage), Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and Ally (Cynthy Wu) — she spends her day collecting roses from admirers for “Cupid’s Day” before getting their party on that night. Samantha’s childhood friend Kent (Logan Miller) is throwing the party, but the outcast and bullied Juliet (Elena Kampouris) decides to crash it. Unlucky for Juliet, her message doesn’t get through and she’s thrown out. Samantha and her girls decide they’ve had enough and leave as well, only to wind up in a car wreck, where Samantha is spent reliving that day ad nauseum. Now, she must figure out why she’s stuck in a time loop and find a way out before she loses her sanity for good.
Before I Fall starts off to a rocky start. How rocky? When Ally is talking about the butterfly effect at lunch, Lindsay jumps in about how she’s heard a story that for every person who watches a pretentious video, three other people die of boredom, causing me to grab a colleague’s arm and ask him, “Are we going to die?!” But once the crash happens and Samantha sets out on her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening, she starts spending time with other characters who used to be very minor. She takes a day off to spend one day with her younger sister Izzy (Erica “sister of Jacob” Tremblay) and then another day she skips the party altogether to go to dinner with the family.
Considering the film is a mystery at its core, it’s sad that it all falls apart so drastically in the last five minutes. It also makes the rest of the film a bit of a headscratcher. You’ll know what I mean once the credits roll. Teenagers are the obvious target here, so considering I loved most of the film, means they should really enjoy all of it. And since they’re the target demographic after all, that’s a good sign. Because there’s not much else for teen girls to flock to, this could be just the sort of counterprogramming Open Road Films can rely on against Logan for at least a decent opening weekend. It’s not the worst thing playing in theaters, and sometimes that’s good enough.