Ry Russo-Young’s previous film, Nobody Walks, was a snapshot of a dysfunctional unit that explored the duality of isolation and relationships in Los Angeles. On the surface, BEFORE I FALL doesn’t seem as though it has anything in common with her earlier work. Yet there’s a subtle thematic connection between the films, even if Maria Maggenti’s screenplay is takes a heavy focus on teenage relationships.
Based on the novel of the same name by Lauren Oliver, it follows a day in the life of Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch). The same day in the life over and over. After a tragic accident, Samantha experiences extreme deja vu, and must work out what she must do differently in order to give value to the last day of her life and end the time loop.
While the shopfront may be incredibly similar to the comedy classic Groundhog Day, by way of Donnie Darko, the tone is radically different. Indeed, for the first act of the film, non-teen audiences may find themselves confronted with a wholly unlikable group of narcissistic Snapchatters, a frenetic burst of Cupid Day constructs and shade being thrown to pop music.
The film changes stylistically once the time loop motif kicks into gear, taking on a far more contemplative tone. Michael Fimognari’s lyrical photography focuses on the beauty of the moment, coupled with some clever editing that shows the repetition of Samantha’s day(s) within a single frame. Showcasing Deutch as an effective and charismatic lead, the ennui and search for meaning is palpable, giving rise to some unexpected depth and an authentic voice for bully and victim voices alike.
Yet as the film bends its way to a predictable conclusion,the simple message is weighed down by the heavy-handedness of the delivery. The inevitability of Samantha’s choices dominate the final act, robbing the final moments of some of their efficacy. Unlike the Bill Murray classic, BEFORE I FALL doesn’t demand a rewatch to pick up all of it nuances, but it’s nevertheless a curious alternative to typical teen dramas.