BEFORE I FALL
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Runtime: 99 minutes
Normally a movie that presents a plot that repeats itself in an endless Moebius loop would be enough to entice me to go see it and this was the case with Ry Russo-Young’s movie Before I Fall. Samantha Kingston (Zoey Dutch) is one of a foursome of mean girls who, if you stuck in a blender and attempted to create an actual human being, you would come out with filth and empty handed. Her voice over basically gives the plot away: February 12th will be the last day of her life and she’s about to experience something extraordinary. That thing, if you will, is the none-too subtle revelation that, like the Ray Stevens’ song Everything is Beautiful. Of course for us to get there we have to go through the tried-and-true formula in which the aforementioned mean girl undergoes a progressive transformation and emerges renewed, and enlightened.
That in itself is okay in my part — you can thank Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for that. The issue that presents itself, which becomes increasingly annoying to the point of aggravation as the movie progresses, Samantha realizes she’s trapped in a loop, reliving the entire day down to details, only to wake up the following morning as if none of the preceding ever took place. And I get it — much in the same way we go through moments of deja-vu and wonder, “Have I been here before? Did I just go through this only to go through it again?”, we do little if anything to analyze, let alone remedy it. There is, perhaps, a potential lesson to be learned and we don’t really do so until we’re forced to by an act of violence. In that sense, I can completely buy into the metaphysical elements of this film.
However, we have a situation of four girls, all of them spoiled rotten, privileged, condescending to a fault, glued together by a common thread of continuous bitchery and dominated by the Queen Bee herself, Lindsay (Halston Sage). None of them–except perhaps Samantha, who comes across as an updated version of Brian De Palma’s Sue Snell of Carrie–has a personality that extends past this narrow definition; all of them believe the hype that they’re the shit, and that is all there is to it. Lindsay, a Chris Hargensen clone, has an especially nasty streak and belittles an outcast again straight out of Carrie, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). Again, it’s not that schools don’t have bullies and outcasts, but Juliet is such as an extreme version of one that it renders her almost a target by proxy. And why the story has her be the plot point no one in the movie manages to see is beyond me, but then, this is a young-adult product and that market doesn’t necessarily cater to deep characterizations.
So on and on, Samantha goes through variations of her day, which also includes the anticipation of losing her virginity to the school hun Rob (Kian Lawley) at a party another romantic hopeful (Logan Miller) throws, where a lesbian classmate utters only one line (“I’m in heternormative hell!” ) when Valentine’s Day roses are disseminated and she gets none, and interactions with her family slowly creep in to signify something bigger than her limited teen reality. [And as the only adult in the film, Jennifer Beals delivers a well-modulated performance.] In a broad comedy Samantha would probably act and react at the sheer absurdity of it all in the same way Bill Murray did in the much better Groundhog Day. Before I Fall presents a character arc that whose growth is as fabricated and artificial as a wax museum statue. It’s all posture, pretense, and perfunctory.