Bias warning: I truly believe that kids, and many teenagers, are unintentional sociopaths. Maybe it’s just the lack of a solidified moral compass. Maybe it’s the amount of hormones coursing through their veins, altering their thought processes. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that this has been my theory for some time now. And to a certain extent, Before I Fall adds a ton of credence to this theory. Either way, it’s what I believe, so be warned. But let me back up a bit: Before I Fall drops this weekend and it’s basically Groundhog Day for the Snapchat-using, pop music singing, septum ring wearing, “Are floppy disks, like, a band?” generation.
Of course, if you’re a part of that generation and you’re reading this right now, it might seem like I got some ‘splaining to do. In short: Groundhog Day stars this guy and was about a man who gets trapped in time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. Before I Fall uses the same basic plot, but makes it relevant to a specific audience and a very modern, Instagrammable time.
Mean-girl-by-association Sam, lives in the Pacific Northwest and is enjoying her life as a senior. On the morning of Valentine’s Day, she and her friends – Regina George-esque ringleader Lindsay, rich girl Allison, and alcoholic-on-the-low Elody – wax poetic about boys, chaos theory and relationships whilst getting through the day. While being high-key pressured to have sex with her jerkface boyfriend of a year, Sam ends up at a party. The party is being thrown by less-of-a-jerkface and childhood friend, Kent. Things go awry however when the target of the cool girl club’s bullying, Juliet, confronts them. In the ride home, they mysteriously hit something and Sam and her friends die in a car accident. Or so we think. As she lives through the time loop, it’s par the course that the layers of her life, and those of others, are unravelled.
Before I Fall is about as predictable as the angsty teenage dystopian dramas it rubs cinematic shoulders with. This isn’t a bad thing. Rather, it just shows how old (see: “experienced”) I’m getting. Because, as I said before, this film is really about the teenage experience and doesn’t care if you can spot plot points a mile away. It’s not your daddy’s movie about a time loop, broh! Despite this, there is still a certain maturity that Before I Fall feigns to not have until the final acts. Much like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Me and Early and The Dying Girl, and other such movies, Before I Fall works to get you to think about the seedier side of those awky teenage years without belittling its own characters or the audience.
Sure, teen movies, as a genre, have never shied away from these subjects. But I like to believe our most modern crop of films are the “gritty reboot” era. You can still get your cotton candy content from places like ABC and Disney. But when it comes to most theatrical pushes, we’re seeing stories being tackled with an increasing premium put on authenticity, increasing attention to real-world consequences and the intersection of identity and technology.
And while again, none of this is particularly new in its own right, most films coming out nowadays are more generally working to actually exist for teens. This is an important distinction, as most industry- and Hollywood-produced stories about teens are often traditionally made by execs with pensions, corporate email accounts and zero knowledge of what the eggplant emoji actually means. As cartoonish as that sounds, it’s kinda true. And, while most films are still being bankrolled by these folks, there’s been a lot of space made for the stories to at least be more genuine. Think John Hughes, but in 2017.
Thus, when it comes to Before I Fall, things like bullying, sexual dynamics, alcohol abuse and death all get some screen time. And they all appear without feeling too preachy for the majority of the time you’re watching. While the film indulges itself in the many of the cheesier moments (Lindsay calling everyone “bae” gets grating after the first time,) these themes actually end up steering the film. It’s a good balance that allows Before I Fall to feel like it’s talking *to* teens in their language instead of talking *over* or *at* them in another.
The irony of all this is that, while the film feels real enough in terms of presentation and interactions, it often pulls up short when it comes to examining or providing a certain depth behind said interactions. Take for instance Sam’s conversation with the resident queer character, Anna. After experiencing her 100th loop, Sam decides to act out (since the day will simply reset with no consequences when she goes to sleep.) So she dresses up “provocatively,” is a shitty person to everyone and wears terribly precarious platform heels. During the course of this particular day, she runs into Anna in the bathroom, who confronts her about Sam’s friends calling her a “bull dyke” and actively outing her romantic activities on Snapchat. The scene itself is light enough to feel real but not deep enough to actually address the issue of homophobia and ostracization (let alone privacy violations) in a substantial way.
This thread, of non-substantive-but-okay-for-now conversation comes up again near the end of the film too. In a very Jesus-esque way, Sam showers all the hurt people in her life with uncompromising love. It allows the ending to make sense, and your feelings gland to palpitate. But realistically, it feels like it lets some character’s more egregious actions go unchallenged (I’m looking at you, Lindsay.) Because of this, Sam’s actions come off as a brush of forgiveness that seeks to fill nuance with broad absolution, instead of specific confrontation. Of course, this is all happening while Sam ironically performs her newfound wokeness in the name of acknowledging the complex reactions Lindsay has had to her particular traumas.
Which, if we look at Before I Fall as allegory for bystander interventionism and allyship, is an interesting angle. In looping endlessly through her day, Sam is able to grow as a person and, more importantly, change a few lives. With both direct and indirect action, her choices affect the world around her in meaningful ways. However, by choosing the path of least resistance and absolution when it comes to Lindsay, there’s a strange aftertaste left with the main dish of the film’s conclusion.
Namely, it manifests as this question of “Well, will she actually treat each other differently now? Or was this just a nice moment that she’ll ultimately associate with Sam and not her life at large?” Without spoiling the ending, it’s something I’d definitely behoove folks who wanna think deeply on these types of things to consider. For it raises even more questions about how movies meant for teens can handle complex subjects in complex ways without losing their audience to overly lofty, or specific, ideas and themes.
It’s at this point that I’ll put my pipe down and dust off my professor jacket — you asked for a movie review, not a dissertation.
Before I Fall is a solid film and it does its best, within the constraints of the genre and the material, to throw some deeper ideas at you. How you receive them is up to you. But, it’s ultimately worth a watch. I recommend catching it on a rainy night, preferably instead of hitting some teen’s house party while his mom is out of town.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter