A little “Carrie,” a little “Groundhog Day,” and a little essay about what makes us become cruel, “Before I Fall” is a thought-provoking movie about friendships, developing a moral compass and growing up. You certainly could classify this as a science-fiction movie, but most audiences won’t see it that way because it focuses on relationships instead of the science behind what occurs.
It’s based Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel of the same name.
Zoey Deutch (“Why Him?”) is Sam, a high-school girl who is a member of a tight-knit group of four popular girls who spend most of their days and evenings with each other.
Today is Cupid Day, when students send roses to each other via other students who deliver the flowers during class time.
Lindsay (Halston Sage, “Paper Towns”) is the leader of the pack of friends who constantly seek a chance to mock a school outcast, Juliet (Elena Kampouris, “Men, Women & Children.”) The four girls end up attending a party thrown by a classmate who has a crush on Sam.
Juliet interrupts the party to confront Sam and the other girls. In a “Carrie”-esque scene, the other girls throw drinks on Juliet and scream back at her, and the unpopular girl runs out into the night. The four girls head home and become involved in a traffic accident that, to all appearances, kills at least some of those involved.
Except Sam wakes up in her own bed, on the same day as the party, and is forced to live the day again and again.
The most compelling part of the movie is not so much the set up as what happens afterward. Sam is forced to think hard about choices she has made, not only on the single day she re-lives, but also from years beforehand. She begins to empathize with other students, including Juliet, and to question why so many people hate the troubled girl. “What do you think people will say about you when you die?” Sam wonders.
Meanwhile, Sam continues to wonder how much she can change her fate as sheHaltcontinues her hellish “existence” of repeating the same day (in several great sequences, her teacher lectures on Sisyphus).
The performances are terrific, and the dialogue is believable. You can see some of this coming for some distance, but there are genuine moments of emotional resonance, particularly when we watch Sam interact with the family she has taken for granted for so long.
The resolution is quite touching. You may reach for a tissue, even if your teen years are long past.