Thanks to a absolutely wonderful performance by Zoey Deutch, beautiful direction from Ry Russo-Young and universal themes beyond just high school, this teen drama is poetically resonant
The teen movie is making a bit of a comeback, at least in terms of quality. Last year, we were treated to the surprise that was “The Edge of Seventeen,” a charming and quite realistic look at what it means to be a teen in 2016. Not only was the film well-received by critics, but it garnered a Golden Globe nomination for leading star, Hailee Steinfeld. These films are beginning to harken back to the golden age of John Hughes films, where real teens face real issues in a very real world, with very little fluff. But much like the resurrection of the musical with the success of “La La Land,” studios need to tread carefully on the rediscovered genres, as to not spoil the pot once again, forcing back into obscurity for another renaissance in another 20 or so years. “Before I Fall” is the first post-“The Edge of Seventeen” teen film to hit theaters and it packs another vintage twist: a “Groundhog Day” style plot. While it’s hardly the first film we’ve seen about a character reliving the same day over and over again, there’s something about “Before I Fall” that from the start, feels special.
Because not only does it continue this recent trend of great teen films, it improves upon it.
Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is a high school senior living in the Pacific Northwest. At school, she is one of the popular girls, in a clique run by the beautifully bitchy Lindsay (Halston Sage). It’s Feb. 12, a normal Friday, with class and preparation for Valentine’s Day, her friends prepare her for a house party at Kent’s (Logan Miller) house in the country, where she anticipates losing her virginity to her equally cool boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley). At the party, things begin to go south when Rob gets too drunk to pay attention to Sam and Lindsay causes a ruckus harassing a quiet, strange classmate, Juliet (Elena Kampouris) simply for showing up. As they leave the party, Sam and her three friends are involved in a fatal car accident, but instead of passing on, Sam awakens in her bed. Thinking it had all been a nightmare, she soon begins to realize that her day has started again, to which she finally begins to use to make amends, lash out, repeat great moments, stop potentially dangerous ones and better herself as a human before she falls once more.
The undeniable shining beacon of before I fall is Deutch, who, despite major roles in films like “Vampire Academy” (a personal campy favorite of mine), “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Why Him?,” still is considered an “unknown” actress. If any performance could catapult someone to mainstream stardom, it’s this one. What “Before I Fall” does so well is that it finds a relatable path in how she relives her days, as she doesn’t immediately realize the implications of her situation, she doesn’t immediately change simply due to her circumstances, she evolves into it. Not only that, it explores the experimental and often times dangerous things one might do when consequences are thrown out the door, all of which Deutch plays wonderfully. The character of Sam evolves so much in the film that each day feels like a new performance from Deutch and the different personas that Sam dons feel like their own fleshed out characters, culminating in a really depthy and interesting protagonist.
Supporting players also do good work, with Sage rising to the top as the sometimes shockingly cruel Lindsay. With the help of Sam, she too finds herself evolving over the days, despite not knowing any part of the situation at hand. Miller also shines as the almost heartbreakingly cute Kent, an adorable admirer of Sam, whom despite a past friendship with, has trouble breaking through to her cool kids circle. The film also features nicely done featured performances from Medalion Rahimi, Cynthy Wu, Diego Boneta, Nicholas Lea, Erica Tremblay and Jennifer Beals.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young, “Before I Fall” takes on the aesthetic of that of a modern David Fincher film with David Cronenweith cinematography (“The Social Network,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Gone Girl”). Shot by Michael Fimognari, known primarily for shooting horror auteur Mike Flanagan’s films, this is a starkly beautiful film that utilizes its Pacific Northwest setting perfectly, much in the way that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” utilized Sweden wonderfully into its plot. Unlike other teen movies of its kind, “Before I Fall” focuses a lot of its energy on its look and atmosphere, not just its plot, though they are both very strong.
Having been directed by Russo-Young, “Before I Fall” has a distinctly feminine touch to it, but one that feels almost sisterly in a way. This is a film that not only deals with heavy subject matter, but does so in a way that must avoid tropes that would bring it down, to which Russo-Young handles in a very delicate way. Focusing on primarily female characters and the relationships that bind them, there is no way that “Before I Fall” would be as strong of a film without a female director, which Hollywood must take note on. While the film is PG-13 (unlike “The Edge of Seventeen,” which embraced an R-rating), it doesn’t feel like a neutered version of being 17 in any real way, which I truly appreciated as someone who just exited their teen years.
“Before I Fall” also isn’t afraid to show character flaws, sometimes severe character flaws. It’s easy to write Sam off as a typical mean girl due to her associations, but the seemingly reprehensible surfaces of some of these characters are explored in a much more sensitive way than something like “The Edge of Seventeen” did, making these characters feel less like caricatures of teens and more like the actual bitches, weirdos, sweethearts, jocks and friends that you went to high school with.
And then there’s the message of the film, which might seem a bit heavy handed to those not familiar with the lives of millennial teens, but even as a college student, these themes resonated with me greatly. While I can’t say I’ve become an overall better person because of “Before I Fall,” it’s one of those films that inspires self-reflection in those personally brought in by the film, and when a film does that, it has done something special that most films don’t even attempt to do.
I loved “Before I Fall.” Will I be in the minority in saying that I liked this film hands down over “The Edge of Seventeen”? Probably. “The Edge of Seventeen” is a film that finds a broader range in relatability, showing problems that many adults likely faced in high school with a modern twist. “Before I Fall” is a film for teens and young adults of the 21st century, and while I think many adults might write it off as “millennial whining,” this is a film that feels personal to the teenage experience in these times. We might not all be in the same social circle as Sam, but watching the film, I saw myself in one of the characters, as well as my friends and some enemies in others. This is one of the best riffs of the typical “Groundhog Day” formula that reflects the best that teen cinema has to offer. I want to re-live this film over and over again.
Directed by: Ry Russo-Young
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Elena Kampouris, with Diego Boneta, and Jennifer Beals.
Runtime: 99 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language – all involving teens.
Open Road Films and Awesomeness Films present, a Jon Shestack production, a film by Ry Russo-Young, “Before I Fall”