This is Chris Shelton with the Critical Picture, movie reviews you can count on. This time we are taking a look at the young adult drama, Before I Fall, directed by Ry Russo-Young based on a 2010 book by author Lauren Oliver and starring Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Klan Lawley and Jennifer Beals.
I went into this movie knowing literally nothing about it, which is pretty difficult and rare for me to do because usually I have seen a trailer or an interview or two or heard something about the plot. In this case, I went in totally cold and I’m very glad I did.
I’m not going to spoil this movie but I will give a little bit from the trailers just to give some context to the rest of what I have to say, although if you haven’t done so I’d suggest not watching the trailers before seeing this. The beginning of this movie is a bit like watching Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. Samantha Kingston, played by Zoey Deutch, is a high school senior with three close friends, all of them good looking, popular and who have mastered the smug, condescending attitude of people you want to be when you are in school but can’t get out of your life fast enough once you graduate. We walk through an entire day of her life around Valentine’s Day and all that entails but at the end of that day, tragedy strikes and Samantha ends up living that same day over and over and over again. I am not going to say anything else about it.
This movie is based on a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver and it definitely has a lesson to teach, which is not going to be lost on anyone who sees this movie. However, unlike many other teen and adult movies with such a moral, the telling of this story is not boring or condescending or heavy-handed and that’s why I felt that this movie worked where so many others have failed. And most importantly, it starts its characters on a road that logically only goes one place, and then unflinchingly takes you to that place instead of sugar-coating it or giving you a Hollywood ending where everything is wrapped up nicely in a saccarine-sweet bow. In fact, I think it was this that really made the difference for me because all too often you expect films with young actors in a high school setting to end consequence-free, with everyone happy and moving on with their life having learned some big “life lesson” which changes them all for the better. Life ain’t that way and most of us know that people don’t want to learn lessons and especially when they are in high school, they could care less about anyone else but themselves.
In addition to honest story telling, the thing that makes this work is mainly Zoey Deutch, who previously starred in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! which is probably where she learned how to really act because she does a great job in this film. In the beginning she is just like most teenagers: self-aborbed, hormonal and on edge almost all of the time, rarely thinking much before acting, not particularly a deep thinker and usually unaware of anything that is going on outside of her small sphere of activity. So when Samantha starts reliving the same day over and over again, it’s not at all hard to believe that it takes her quite a while before she starts really understanding what is going on and why. But as she does, and as her circumstances force her to change and mature unlike the rest of the people around her, she begins to become much more than your average teen.
There are many ways this story could have been told, especially making it play for more laughs or be goofier or sillier but director Ry Russo-Young takes the material seriously and invests time and attention in her girlfriends so they are not just a bunch of stereotype foibles for Samantha to play off of.
In terms of negatives, besides her girlfriends, there are some stereotypes, especially with almost every male character which I found a bit grating and unnecessary. The film concentrates on Samantha and her girlfriends but there’s enough interaction with some male characters that I felt they deserved a more even and honest hand in their writing and dialogue. There’s another character who is integral to the story’s plot who also comes across as two-dimensional and really just seems to serve as a plot device rather than a fleshed out character in her own right. Had there been more attention paid to these characters in the same way as Samantha, this movie could have been elevated to real greatness.
As it is, I enjoyed the hell out of this film and it really did move me, so I’m giving this a rating of Pretty Good. I really do want you to go see it and give me your feedback and impressions. It won’t work for everyone but I think if you want a good movie with a solid lead performance of a character you will quickly care about, this movie is for you.
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