With a concept that is better than its execution, BEFORE I FALL tells the story of Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), a high school girl who is forced to relive the same day of her life over and over again until…well, it’s not exactly clear what the powers that control the universe are pushing her to do to break out of the cycle, but we’re pretty sure it involves being a better person. The more ominous element of her time loop is that most versions of this day end with Samantha dying along with her three best friends in a horrible car accident, so the burden is put upon her to not find a way to live the best version of this particular day, but to live the best version of the last day of her life.
Samantha and her three friends are low-level mean girls (including queen bee Lindsay, played by Halston Sage). They pick on the outcasts (among them, the school’s one out lesbian, played by Anna Cartullo, and the depressive artist girl Juliet, played by Elena Kampouris, who was childhood friends with Lindsay), date the cute boys, and go to the big party on the weekend. I guess we’re supposed to think Samantha is a little more tolerant and kind than her friends later in the film, but in the early scenes, she’s just as bad as them to both her fellow students and her family, including her concerned mother (Jennifer Beals).
But as each new day begins, Samantha begins to see the errors in her ways and in her world. By seeing the same terrible behavior repeated day after day, she recognizes the pain it causes others, but she also starts to notice where the origins of such deeds came from. At some point, she decides to focus her attention on a new person every day and follows them around to see what she’s never seen before about their routines, insecurities, and even moments of kindness. Most versions of this day culminate in Sam and her friends tormenting Juliet at a party thrown by Kent (Logan Miller), a good kid with a long-time crush on Sam, which, in some versions of this day, comes to fruition. Juliet leaves the party to possibly kill herself, and Sam becomes aware that their fates are intertwined.
Based on the novel by Lauren Oliver, adapted by Maria Maggenti, and directed by Ry Russo-Young (NOBODY WALKS), BEFORE I FALL is a harmless exercise about the process of becoming the best version of yourself. It takes a rather roundabout way of getting there, and in the end, some of the side trips Samantha takes (like an extended conversation with her mother or spending the entire day with her younger sister) are more interesting than her primary journey, but overall, the film has a handful of worthy messages—from anti-bullying to taking a moment to appreciate those around you—that the teenagers in your life might appreciate.