Before I Fall is a Very Special Episode stretched to ninety minutes in which an insipid teen learns not to be a total asshole by reliving the same day over and over. If you’re saying, “Hey, that sounds like Groundhog Day,” then you are correct because this is basically just Groundhog Day for teens. Zoey Deutch stars as Sam, a total Becky who is the spineless follower of Lindsey (Halston Sage, Paper Towns), the queen bee bully in their high school. Imagine Regina George but not funny, and that’s Lindsey. Their other friends are Ally (Cynthy Wu, Twisted), the smart one, and Elody (Medalion Rahimi, XOXO), who likes sex. They call each other “The Baes” and die repeatedly in a car crash, which is cathartic for the audience.
We watch Sam and her asshole friends go through their day, which is Cupid’s Day, the day before Valentine’s when the students send each other roses. Sam gets a lot of roses, including one from the nerdy guy she was friends with as a child, Kent (Logan Miller, The Walking Dead). Kent is a Nice Guy in the making, who doesn’t respect Sam when she says “no” and is rewarded for his borderline stalkerish persistence by getting to make out with Sam in the end. Great message!
Not getting any roses is School Lesbian (Santa Clarita Diet’s Liv Hewson), and Juliet (Elena Kampouris, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2), who has hair that screams, “I have emotional problems brought on by relentless bullying.” Her tormentors are, naturally, The Baes, and any normal human person can pick up on the moral of the story within the first half hour. But it takes Sam the entire hundred-minute run time to get it because Sam is an asshole.
This is just a feature-length anti-bullying PSA, and dear lord is it tedious. Also, the actual “work” Sam does to get her purgatory day right doesn’t involve any sort of public acknowledgment of her part in torturing Juliet, nor does it require any accountability from her. She’s just a basically decent person for one day, and I’m sorry, but you don’t get extra credit for basic human decency.
Amazingly, the day where Sam decides to do whatever the f*ck she wants and actually stands up to horror show Lindsey and calls her nightmare BFF out on her super-awful behavior isn’t the magical “right” day that solves Sam’s purgatory problem. No, Sam spends that day on the verge of tears in a vaguely risqué dress and black eyeliner, and also she loses her virginity on that day, but then she gets a reset. I’m not sure what the message there is supposed to be except that “saved” Sam is, um, still saved, so draw your own conclusions.
Before I Fall is written by Maria Maggenti, writer of the timeless Selena Gomez classic Monte Carlo, and it’s directed by a rising female filmmaker, Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks). Russo-Young demonstrates enough camera competency that she ought to get better offers going forward, but I am curious why neither of those women saw any problem with the movie’s half-assed messaging and lackadaisical redemption of Sam. I really don’t know what the message is supposed to be except, “A lifetime of tortuous bullying can be atoned for with one day of being a normal human.”
Zoey Deutch is a good actress with a sparky screen presence, and I’ve been waiting for someone to make better use of her than has been made in films like Why Him?, Everybody Wants Some!!—a good movie but she’s reduced to Token Female—and the absolutely unwatchable flaming garbage that is Vampire Academy. This is better use of Deutch because at least she’s the lead and she has zero problem holding the screen, but it’s not the best use because Before I Fall is a dumb f*cking movie.