One could make the very compelling argument that “Before I Fall” is an example of audience participation filmmaking. Shallow and popular high school student Samantha (Zoey Deutch) spends the entire runtime reliving the day of the car accident that killed her; the audience spends the entire runtime reliving the movie “Groundhog Day.”
This shameless remake/rip-off recycles the Harold Ramis classic, taking a loathsome character and forcing her to wake up to the same day over and over again until she decides to make a difference in the world around her. The key difference is that she’s prettier than Bill Murray, and probably looks better in a short skirt. Then again, I haven’t seen Bill Murray in a short skirt, so the jury’s still out on that one.
Deutch plays Samantha, the one seemingly redeemable quadrant of a vile clique of Farrah Abraham wannabes (Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi, Cathy Wu) who’d presumably use the curse of immortality to hit Daddy up for a different color Lexus every day. After an epic house party where social misfit Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) is ganged up on and, like, totally called a “psycho bitch” (lulz!), Samantha and her friends are SO killed in an OMG car crash that’s completely WTF, and Sam has 2 liv that day 4ever AFAIK lol #2CUTE4U!
Following the ‘Groundhog Day” formula, Samantha learns that the person she is isn’t the person she wants to be, and that acts of kindness can have butterfly effect-like implications for the universe at large. Yes, they literally tell you that, by which director Ry Russo-Young also tells you she’s seen “The Butterfly Effect.” You don’t have to worry about missing this important subtext, since “Before I Fall” is the sort of film that doesn’t trust its audience to follow the simplest cinematic elements without voiceover narration to constantly explain them. The movie literally ends with a “G.I. Joe”-style public service announcement in which Samantha talks directly to the audience about how You Too Can Make A Difference Every Single Day. The viewer half-expects Joey Lawrence or Mark-Paul Gosselaar to inform us that we can read more about it at our local library.
Then again, take a look at the intended audience. “Before I Fall” presents teen life as a typical millennial fantasy in which white kids attend high schools that look like community college campuses, staffed with adorkable hunky English teachers approximately the same age as their students. The administration actually allows classroom activity to halt while students are presented with Cupid Day flowers from their admirers. Yes, rich white kids even get their very own Valentine’s Day, and with its very own name. Are there actually teenagers in the audience who are nodding their heads, thinking, “This is totally like my life”? I was a teenager once, and it’s hard to find much real world relatability to a lead character who’s reminded that, as a child, she used to ride all of the family horses so that none of them would feel left out. “All” of them? ALL OF THEM.
It’s a simplified, black and white version of our universe, populated by Noble Teenagers who brim with profound insight while stereotypes run unchecked around them. Minorities are whitewashed to the point of lacking definable ethnicity. Juliet, the dogpiled outcast, is overdesigned in her freakishness to the point of absurdist hilarity. Unable to simply present the character as a hygiene-challenged minor misfit, the wardrobe and make-up team have done her up like Charles Ogle in Thomas Edison’s silent-picture version of “Frankenstein,” wearing a Halloween store fright wig and limping around in a giant coat like a hunchback. Because that’s what a high school nerd looks like, right? “Before I Fall” is so lacking in subtlety that you’re almost surprised the title isn’t written in capital letters.
The score is a cacophony of ear-destroying electronic dance music with vaguely-Jamaican-inflected auto-tuned vocals dialed in from Planet Teenager. Heightening the unreality, every character knows every word to every one of these alleged songs, despite none of said songs existing on our present Earth. It’s either a product of crass corporate synergy, or a nightmarish glimpse behind the curtain at a parallel universe where contemporary music sucks even more than it already does. Get off my lawn, movie!
Credit where credit’s due, as the ending is surprisingly bleak. This isn’t to say that the revelation isn’t a predictable one; however, the minutes leading up to it are drowned beneath an avalanche of super-serious Velveeta that all but guarantees a happier ending. Nevertheless, the taste of cheddar will last long after you’ve left the theater to go hang out in the food court with all your friends who were, like, totally texting through the movie, too.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language – all involving teens
Directed by Ry Russo-Young
Written by Maria Maggenti