I could suggest something insipid and say that I’m not the target audience for Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall. I’m a decade removed from my high school experience and perhaps just out of touch with the complications and concerns of your typical (upper-class, suburban, white) teenager. Gosh, this film made me feel old. Were teenagers always this terrible? I mean, they’ve always been the worst, but you say that (kinda) jokingly. Here’s a film that means it.
It’s Cupid’s Day and Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is hoping to get laid. I’m guessing Cupid’s Day is akin to the largely Midwestern-exclusive Sweetest Day; which means absolutely nothing. On this particular day, students buy roses from the school which are distributed among the student body with cute messages attached. Samantha gets a requisite rose from her boyfriend, with a brusque note written in text-speak using words like “u” or “luv”, which I suppose underscores his insensitivity or something. Let’s ignore that his big scene involves motorboating Sam when he spills beer all over her. Sam also gets another rose from a more sensitive boy who happens to write something more thoughtful, something that really gets her (in 100 characters or less), yet she rebuffs his advances. I wonder if Sam will learn to love this boy.
Anyway, Sam’s a pretty vile person, lashing out against her younger sister for no apparent reason and prone to join her noisome friends in ridiculing other different students. You know, the ones that are gay or dressed in oversized clothing. So, Sam and her friends die in a car accident, which I know sounds cold-hearted to write so bluntly, but make it known that moments before she proceeds to join her friends in berating another student in a scene that’s as cruel as Carrie’s opening sequence.
And so we enter the film’s Groundhog’s Day structure, where Sam relives the day in an attempt to decipher meaning behind her (premature?) death. Surprisingly, she proceeds with her day the second time around doing pretty much the same vile shit she did before. Which, I don’t know, seems redundant even for a film about redundancies. So everyday becomes a freshly open lesion that informs Sam’s changing worldview: she begins to realize that she was a jerk, that maybe she should be nicer to all those people she bullied, and maybe her boyfriend really is a douchebag. You know, the sort of thing that people with functioning optics and a well-maintained cardiopulmonary system would understand.
I know a lot of this just comes across as a bitter when the film’s intentions are, perhaps on a superficial level, meant to be comforting. Sam will learn to treat people with respect and right her many wrongs. But the film is short-sighted and too pleased with itself to really say anything useful about the high school experience, about bullying, or about anything resembling reality. I mean, the film ends with (spoilers!) Sam sacrificing herself for the girl that she and her friends bullied and obliterated in short order. How patronizing is it that it’s the girl who ends up bullied and the object of such vulgar derision, and prepared to die, will now have to carry around that kind of guilt. Jesus. Teenagers are the absolute worst.