Film Review – Before I Fall
Before I Fall
What if? That simple question has plagued so many of us and also inspired a number of stories. Both good and bad, as a story device, the central idea of “if I had just done this differently” has been the impetus behind a lot of movies. Unfortunately, it also means we’ve all seen it before too. And feeling is what mostly plagues the new film Before I Fall.
The day starts for Zoey Deutch as a High School Senior waking up to her alarm, having a brief scene with her parents (Jennifer Beals and Nicolas Lea of X-Files infamy) and her little sister, before being picked up for school by her best friend. They make the rounds picking up the rest of their group, going to school, obsessing about how many flowers they’ll receive on Valentine’s Day, ridiculing a reclusive outcast girl with messy hair, flirting with certain popular guys, attending a late night party, and having their day end with tragedy. But ala Groundhog’s Day, Deutch’s character wakes up the next morning at the same time to the same music, same origami bird made by her sister in her bed, same conversations… you see where this is headed. She’s caught in replaying the same day over and over.
The elevator pitch for this movie could be reduced to a dramatic Groundhog’s Day for the Twilight set. And yes, sometimes that is as gratingly cloying as it sounds. Especially early in the film when the day is first being run through, all of it feels so artificial and overscripted you are always aware you are watching a movie. These girls engage in the aggressive overuse of referring to each other as “Bae” to prove that the script is hip with how these kids today speak their hip speak. This group of 4 are so artificial it comes off more like watching a teen drama on the CW than any semblance of reality. Also, these are essentially the 21st century version of the Heathers with Zoey Deutch as Veronica. But instead of being quotable and witty they take selfies and just act catty. They don’t feel real. Also, the foreshadowing of the coming time loop of a day is so heavy handed you can see the director telegrahing what’s to come. In class they just happen to be studying Sisyphus (cue metaphor alert here). A locker she walks by happens to have a kid dropping his books which just makes you remember when Bill Murray memorizes the dishes crashing in the diner in Groundhog’s Day. The loner girl they ridicule is cartoonishly dour with bangs in her eyes and glaring looks. That trenchcoat brigade outsider trope is becoming the modern equivalent of the glasses with tape and a pocket protector “nerd” character from 50’s stories, ala Eugene in Grease or the Revenge of the Nerds characters.
The movie does get better as it goes along. In fact, the middle of the movie has some emotional truth to it. As she learns both about the rules of the loop she’s stuck in and how she can improve the situation, the film gets more watchable. And by the end, the reasons for everything make sense. It’s unfortunate that the ending can be compared to a couple of other movie examples that have done this before. I won’t say what those are here as to avoid spoilers. But once again, if you are familiar, you will have seen this before.
The soundtrack to this movie may be the most annoying of all. While it’s populated by the likes of Grimes, Kurt Vile, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all of whom can be good, the songs are so forcefully placed throughout the movie you can feel them trying to sell the soundtrack album. This is where it most feels like watching a Twilight movie where the songs are trying to force a mood on you in the audience. But it’s more irritating than anything.
The recursive time loop movie can be done. Edge of Tomorrow proved that there is still life left in the repeating a day story. But that movie was smart in it’s use of editing and knowing how quickly the audience can keep up with the idea to not make it tired. This movie has a little of that, and the lessons it imparts about being good to others and improving your world are worthy. Zoey Deutch is a good actress and does fine work here. Also, this movie deserves kudos for repeatedly passing the Bechdel test of starring females who talk about things other than men at least sometimes. This will seem like damning praise, but this might be a really deep movie for a 12 year old girl. But anyone with maturity beyond that will likely see through what Before I Fall is up to here.