"BEFORE I FALL" — 2½ stars — Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, Logan Miller, Jennifer Beals; PG-13 (mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images and language — all involving teens); in general release
Anyone who has seen Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" will instantly recognize its similarities to "Before I Fall." That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but in this case it is.
This time around, rather than a grumpy, middle-aged weatherman, it is a spoiled teenage girl who finds cosmic redemption through a life suddenly stuck on repeat. When a more or less routine Friday ends with a dramatic car crash, Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) wakes up the next morning to find herself reliving the same day over and over again.
Truth be told, being stuck in Samantha's loop isn't the worst fate imaginable. She comes from a wealthy family and runs with a tight-knit group of attractive, super-popular, equally wealthy seniors, including her best friend Lindsay (Halston Sage). They start their day by speculating on how many roses they will receive as part of the yearly "Cupid Day" tradition at school, and their estimates are in the dozens. Samantha has a boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley), who is ready to take their relationship to a more sexual level, and when she and her friends aren't kissing the "hottest boys" and going to the "sickest parties," they are making fun of Juliet, the shock-haired artist girl at school (Elena Kampouris).
They're kind of like Tina Fey's "Mean Girls," only they aren't funny. They are awful.
As Samantha continues to live the same day over and over, she makes her way through the same stages of grief, scrambling to understand what is happening, acting defiant when she feels like her personal agency has no meaning, and eventually doing crazy things because there's no reason to think there will be any consequences.
Gradually, she begins to recognize the plot holes in her life, and so Samantha tries to forge a more affectionate relationship with her family, considers a more romantic relationship with her longtime friend Kent (Logan Miller), and in time she realizes that the purpose of her predicament is connected to poor Juliet.
Since Samantha is so obviously stuck in the "Groundhog Day" loop, we are able to tolerate the unlikable protagonists, since the expectation is that this supernatural experience will redeem these awful wretches. And once Samantha recognizes the school-party-car-crash pattern to her day, she starts trying to make different decisions, which keeps things more engaging for the audience.
But director Ry Russo-Young never manages to give the audience anything it hasn't seen before, and "Before I Fall's" resolution falls well short of satisfying.
There are worse things than following a formula, but the problem with "Before I Fall" is that it never really makes any attempt to distinguish it from the "stuck in a time loop" movies that have come before it. Effectively, "Before I Fall" is little more than "Groundhog Day" with all the humor and charm swapped out for entitled teenage angst, and only one of the teens ever makes any changes.
That teenage angst does lead to a very specific and positive message about how to treat your family and the people around you, and Deutch is appealing and convincing in the lead role. But for all those good intentions and positive messages, "Before I Fall" still leaves the audience expecting more.
"Before I Fall" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images and language — all involving teens; running time: 99 minutes.