Boasting themes that are both cerebral and philosophical, “Before I Fall” is a thriller that goes far beyond the surface level. Too often teenagers — girls, especially — are depicted on screen as superficial, obsessed with appearances. But in “Before I Fall,” popularity contests are plagued by existential conundrums, with elevated stakes exacerbated by the fleeting nature of youth, and questions about the nature of life itself go hand in hand with the tricky maneuvering of high school politics.
“Before I Fall” borrows a premise from “Groundhog Day,” in that Samantha (Zoey Deutch) must relive the same Friday over and over, preceding a dangerous car crash. To make matters worse, it’s Cupid Day, when the high school celebrates Valentine’s Day with “val-o-grams,” rose deliveries that literally account for every student’s popularity points.
Sam starts off as a carefree queen bee, ensconced in a tightly knit foursome of popular girls. However, forced to relive the day over and over, which resets at the moment of the crash, she zeroes in on the side characters, the nerds and the bullied, and the small interactions that lead toward the inevitable, trying to change things and stop the loop.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young, “Before I Fall” focuses on the intimate friendships between teenage girls, foregrounding their experiences, their voices and their perspectives among the hubbub of high school. Boyfriends are present, but not as important as the bonds between girls, born of shared history and hours spent together.
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The overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest setting cast a ghostly pallor over the proceedings. Russo-Young carefully expands and contracts the repeated moments, picking out new pieces of information to parcel out each round.
Halston Sage plays mean girl Lindsay, Logan Miller is longtime pal Kent, and Medalion Rahimi and Cynthy Wu make up the rest of her clique. But this is Deutch’s film — she carries the emotional journey on her back, as Sam is the only one who knows she’s in a time loop.
In the course of living our lives, we can’t go back and re-do a terrible high school party or a bad day. Sam is able to do that, and as she makes another circle around the track, she learns something every time — how to care more for others while caring less what their judgments are of you; how to do what you feel and believe rather than following the crowd. “Before I Fall” is reminder of how growth, change and breaking with norms can bring us to our truest selves.
“Before I Fall”
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images and language, all involving teens. 1:39. Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.