Before I Fall
Okay, right up front I have to admit that yes, Before I Fall is built around the same sort of repeating-the-day time loop that formed the basic structure of Groundhog Day. It was also the hook for everything from a twice-adapted short story from 1935 to no fewer than four Christmas movies. The point being that it matters less whether the device is wholly original and more how well it’s used. And Nobody Walks director Ry Russo-Young uses it masterfully to get at ideas that are no less true for the outsized importance a teenaged audience attaches to them.
The time loop follows Samantha “Sam” Kingston (Zoey Deutch) on what her voiceover suggests is the last day of her life. She wakes up on Friday, February 12 to Big Data’s “Dangerous” and a text message from her friend Lindsay (Halston Sage). She gets dressed and rushes out, snapping at both her sister (Erica Tremblay) and her mother (Jennifer Beals) on the way out. Lindsay drives through their tony, Pacific northwest town to school, picking up Elody and Allison (Medalion Rahimi and Cynthy Wu) along the way.
In their school, these four are the mean girls, ranking and measuring their popularity with the roses passed out during the school’s “Cupid Day” fundraiser. They sneer at Anna, the out lesbian (Liv Hewson), and flat-out harass the “weird girl”, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). Sam blows off the affections of her one-time childhood friend, Kent (Logan Miller), in favor of the high-status jock douche, Rob (Kian Lawley), to whom she’s scheduled to give up her virginity to that night.
The drama continues to a rager at Kent’s house, where Juliet shows up uninvited and Lindsay causes a scene. And then when the foursome leave the party in the middle of a thunderstorm, Lindsay pays scant attention to the road. They barely miss one truck, alerted by its horn, only to hit something else and roll the car.
And then Sam wakes up on Friday morning again, slowly coming to her realization of what’s going on. The contours aren’t exactly subtle; there’s obviously some history between Lindsay and Juliet that must be unearthed, and even some of the details aren’t exactly hard to guess. But Russo-Young, along with the script Maria Maggenti adapted from Lauren Oliver’s novel, has a wonderfully deliberate patience with the process. The lesson of kindness that Sam must learn is not unlike the one snide, callous weatherman Phil Connors learns, but Before I Fall applies that kindness to its own characters, digging into how they have become who they are.
Because nobody like Sam turns into a mean girl overnight. Even Lindsay’s behavior has deep, old roots. Sam has pushed not only Juliet, but Kurt, Anna, and even her mother and sister. She has internalized the lesson that the way to protect herself is to put on her spiked armor and hold the rest of the world at bay. As the loop repeats, there is no single moment of redemption, but a careful process of stripping down this armor and revealing the person inside that Sam had once wanted to be.
And while it’s obvious that she has failed to show compassion to someone like Juliet, she has also failed to show true compassion to Lindsay, who is supposed to be her closest friend. It’s a subtle point that could easily be lost in a lesser version of this movie: it’s possible to be friendly without being kind. The movie may be full of operatic teenage bluster, but it’s these quiet, personal moments that turn it into something truly satisfying.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.