Groundhog Day gets a sappy teen twist with Before I Fall, about a teenage girl forced to live the same day over and over. Here are some things that Before I Fall has going for it: It stars Zoey Deutsch, whom you liked in Everybody Wants Some!!. Jennifer Beals is in it! It’s an original property in a sea of neverending franchises, and the premise looks pretty cool. (It was good when Harold Ramis did it, anyway.) And hey, it’s a female writer/director duo besides!
Here’s what Before I Fall has going against it: It fucking sucks.
Stepping into the shoes of Bill Murray is Sam, the quote-unquote “nice” member of a quartet of high school queen bee bullies. The “nice” is questionable—she’s snappish to her parents (Beals and Nicholas Lea, aka Krycek from The X-Files) and rude to her little sister (Erica Tremblay), but at least she’s not as much of a ravening hell-beast as best friend Lindsay (Halston Sage), who takes the borderline sociopathy of Regina George and subtracts the humor.
Sam, we are told, has a “good heart”, because when she was a kid she’d “take turns riding all the horses in the stable, so none would feel left out.”
When she’s not being the most basic bitch imaginable, Sam bullies the outcasts of her Pacific Northwest high school, among them lesbian Anna (Liv Hewson) and, her clique’s number one target, “psycho” Juliet (Elena Kampouris). It’s Juliet who confronts Sam and her friends at a party one night, which in turn leads to Juliet being mercilessly humiliated. Later that night, she commits suicide. The less-funny Heathers leave the party and subsequently get into a car accident; instead of dying, Sam wakes up in her bed to repeat the same day over. And over. And over.
I don’t know how long Sam had to relive that day, but it can’t have been as long as this movie felt.
The problem with Before I Fall is that it wants its Very Special Episode anti-bullying points without wanting to do any of the actual effort to get there. It’s a movie where what it thinks it is and what it actually is are on opposite sides of the planet. Sam’s whole arc is that she’s a Mean Girl who realizes that maybe, just maybe, she should not be a heinous bitch to people. (It takes her way too long to realize that the point of her reliving the same day over and over is to prevent Juliet’s suicide, which is kind of an obvious thing if you’re not a narcissistic nightmare.) Yet she never confronts her friends about their bullying ways in any substantial way. She never sticks up for Juliet, or even tries to befriend her. Her “redemption arc” is the most half-assed, pitiful thing, yet it’s presented as some sort of grand act of heroism.
[SPOILER ALERT:] The movie ends with Sam “saving” Juliet by dying herself in order to prevent Juliet from committing suicide. Which… is supposed to stop Sam’s friends from bullying Juliet in the future? Not sure how, really. They didn’t learn anything. Sam’s Big Moment with Lindsay isn’t to tell her to knock it off with tormenting a girl who’s clearly suffering from psychological issues. No, it’s to tell her that she loves her, and she doesn’t need to be so “tough” all the time because her parents had a messy divorce when she was a kid. I’m pretty sure being “tough” isn’t Lindsay’s problem. I’m pretty sure the heartless bullying is the problem. This is a girl who says, upon finding out Juliet has killed herself, “you can’t be mean to someone forever and then feel bad when she dies.” Does Lindsay have issues of her own? Sure. But Before I Fall seems to think explaining someone’s bad behavior is the same thing as excusing it, which isn’t the case. At all. No one in this movie has to take responsibility for their actions.
A terrible main character and troubling attitudes towards bullying aside, Before I Fall is bogged down by tired tropes that leech all the life out of it. Of Sam and Lindsay’s two other friends, one is “The Slut” and the other is “The Smart One.” Sam dates a scummy frat boy douchebro right out of scummy frat boy douchebro central casting, but her real soulmate is—you’ll never guess—Kent (Logan Miller, who was also in A Dog’s Purpose), a Nice Guy nerd who’s been pining after her from afar and who has dubious attitudes towards consent. (When Sam declines his party invitation: “I’ll take that no as a maybe.”) Once a few cycles through the Groundhog Day machine make Sam (ostensibly) start to become a better person, she begins falling for Kent, which is weird given there’s no chemistry between the two and she expressed zero interest in him before. But hey, if a guy crushes on a girl long enough she has to end up wanting to fuck him, right?
Should we stop there? Have I convinced you not to see this movie yet? Let’s go on. The dialogue is hacky as shit.
Sam, after asking why they bully Juliet, is reminded that she slung some rather harsh abuse at her just 24 hours (for her friends) ago: “That was forever ago… that was yesterday.”
“She has a name. She’s a person”
And finally, delivered super-dramatically: “LINDSAY’S THE ONE WHO PEED.
Oh, and the lesson Sam has to sit through every day in class is about Sisyphus. Because she’s doing the same thing over and over again but never getting anywhere. Do you get it?
Before I Fall is a melodramatic, “inspirational” bit of teen schlock where everyone in it is a sociopath. Hard pass.