After a dearth of teen films in 2016 (with the exception of dystopian sci-fi in Allegiant and The 5th Wave), 2017 is already off to a promising start for the teen girl audience. Last month saw the release of perhaps one of the best teen films of this generation in The Edge of Seventeen, and has quickly been followed up with Before I Fall, an adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel.
Sam (Zoey Deutsch) wakes up on ‘Cupid Day’, ready to hang out with her gal pals and lose her V plates. Her posse consists of Elody (Medalion Rahimi), Ally (Cynthy Wu), and queen bee Lindsay (Halston Sage), who are all played by super fly actresses if their names are anything to go by. They laugh, they drink, they act superior to all those around them, and then they’re involved in a car accident. Sam wakes up, only to discover she’s reliving the same day. Basically she’s a younger, hotter, female version of Bill Murray.
Groundhog Day for teens, Before I Fall sees Sam reliving the same day over and over again. The first time, she barely changes a thing (not even her outfits which seemed highly implausible for an image-conscious teen) and you almost have to wonder what the hell she’s doing. The same car crash ensues, and the day restarts. With each repetition, Sam gradually makes some changes and learns a few lessons.
Zoey Deutsch shines in the lead role, and will hopefully continue to be cast in big roles over the bland likes of Britt Robertson and Chloe Grace Moretz. She gives depth to the mean girl with a heart and is a pleasure to watch. Halston Sage, on the other hand, while absolutely mind-numbingly gorgeous, risks getting typecast. Her leader of the pack, Lindsay, is also shown to have another side, but she never quite breaks out of the stereotypical mould of the queen bitch. Multiple stereotypes do abound – the too unfashionable to be believable, loner, Juliette (Elena Kampouris), the wanker who’s too cool for school (and Sam’s boyfriend), Rob (Kian Lawley), and the adorable nerd who is sure to ultimately win Sam’s heart, Kent (Logan Miller). It makes for some fairly predictable plot developments, but thankfully not the main one.
In terms of aesthetics, the film has a strong Twilight vibe, albeit with more mansions. In contrast to the many teen films set in sunny locations, Before I Fall is set amongst a cold rainy town surrounded by forest. While (from memory) the specific location is never explicitly stated, filming took place in British Columbia and Vancouver, Canada. It’s a welcome change and makes the film stand out in stylistic terms. In contrast, a more questionable choice is the use of voiceover. Perhaps it was a challenging task to adapt the script for the screen given so much of the book is Sam’s inner monologue. But these parts of the script give almost too much away, not allowing the audience to think more for themselves. Are the target audience just not considered capable? Give them some credit.
The loop concept is unusual for a teen film, although not entirely original; along with Groundhog Day we also had the pleasure of seeing Tom Cruise die over and over again in Edge of Tomorrow. Like the former, the reason for why this is happening to Sam is never quite made clear. Nevertheless, the concept provides intriguing fodder for teen audiences and begs further questions, notably: is each day creating another alternate universe? What are the trajectories of the other characters? How can I get my hair to look like Lindsay’s?
Director Ry Russo-Young and screenwriter Maria Maggenti have done an impressive job overall with the source material provided. A few things from the book have been omitted, and probably for the best (for example, a sexual encounter between Sam and her male teacher did not need to be included). Just enough repetitions of the day are shown, and as a result the film stays fresh rather than becoming tiresome. Like Bill Murray’s clock radio playing ‘I Got You Babe’ each morning, the same song plays on Sam’s iPhone at the start of each day. Unfortunately the soundtrack doesn’t bode well for the future of music.
Of most value in this film, even more than the message of ‘living each day as if it’s your last’ is an important message about the effects of bitchiness and bullying. It also avoids demonising the bullies, still honouring the importance of friendship even within the cool crowd. That’s not to say they’re completely forgiven for cruel acts either. Teen girls will probably flock to this film for the cool girls, but hopefully they’ll come away with something more.
Before I Fall is in cinemas from 2nd March through Roadshow Films.