BEFORE I FALL
Open Road Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Written by: Maria Maggenti based on Lauren Oliver’s novel
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/1/17
Opens: March 3, 2017
Some say that if you had your life to do over, you would make the same mistakes. Russo-Young who directs “Before I Fall” using Maria Maggenti’s screenplay based on Lauren Oliver’s novel does not exactly beg to differ. But we get the impression that you can change some things within days, and you don’t have to be reborn. The catch is that you have to be aware that you will die imminently. With that knowledge, though, even if you’re an immature 17-year-old high school student, you can do your bit to become a better person, much like the condemned man who confesses on the day of his execution that he indeed did the crime.
“Before I Fall,” which could have been named “Before I Die,” is of special interest to a high-school audience. Callow youths may learn something from it that could change their lives even if they are lucky enough to have several decades ahead of them. The major flaw in the project is that it plagiarizes or expropriates the clever theme of Harold Ramis’s 1993 film “Groundhog day,” in which Bill Murray plays a weatherman who relives one day over and over and over until he gets his life right.
The focus now is on Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), played by an actress who is twenty-two years old and has had roles in movies you don’t want to brag about such as “Dirty Grandpa” and “Why Him?” She is best friends with a trio of fellow students, the particularly mean Lindsay (Halston Sage), the doll-like Allison (Cynthy Wu),and Elody (Medalion Rahimi). She lives in a luxurious home in the Pacific Northwest (filmed as though a tourist brochure in Vancouver and Squamish) with her mother (Jennifer Beals), father (Nicholas Lea), and kid sister Izzy (Erica Tremblay). She is popular in school, receiving roses from admirers on “Cupid Day” February 12. Since these are rich kids, they have cars, and that is how Samantha dies—in a horrible crash that turns the vehicle over several times.
But wait! She wakes up the next morning thinking she was dreaming, but when the day proceeds, she recognizes what is happening—and she can predict the activities of the day including a lesson from her teacher, Mr. Daimler (Diego Boneta) about Sisyphus. And the same thing happens the next day and the next, seven times in fact, avoiding the car trip a few of those days but not others. Realizing that she has only one day (seven times over) to make things right and to die a good person, she takes steps to change her boyfriend from the thuggish Rob (Kian Lawley) to the sympathetic, clean-cut Kent (Logan Miller). Best of all, she moves to make up for years of bullying the strange Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who eats lunch alone but not before receiving nasty comments from the Lindsay and company.
The film could have been more visceral had it stuck to the trajectory of the novel, where Samantha is shown especially nasty to her mother and kid sister and has joined in for years in harassing poor Juliet. In the novel she seduces her math teacher, but here, she simply approaches her English teacher seductively in front of the class, asking whether she is breaking his heart. She is actually the nicest of her best friends but is shown acting bitchy on only one day when she wears a suggestive dress, eye shadow, and has an attitude of anger.
The film is reasonably entertaining and serves as another imaginative view of life in high school in a rich community that would scarcely believe a scene out of “Blackboard Jungle.”
Unrated. 100 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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