What happens when you take the time-loop premise of Groundhog Day, strip out the heart and humor that made that film a classic, and drop it in a tween-lit narrative context that plays something like Heathers without the incisive social satire or bleak gallows humor? You get Before I Fall, a tepid adaptation of a book I’ll never read from an author I’ve never heard of.
The film follows a wealthy suburban high school student named Sam (Zoey Deutch, Everybody Wants Some!!) as she and her bitchy clique of vacuous reprobates bully their way through a fictitious holiday known as Cupid Day. Why not Valentine’s Day? Maybe Hallmark didn’t want their intellectual property associated with this junk, or maybe the writer was saving an actual holiday for the sequel. Regardless, the day culminates in a particularly boring teen kegger intended to provide the venue for Sam to lose her virginity to her teen-movie-cliché boyfriend, but instead ending with her unexpected demise in a car crash. Already asking yourself “So what?” I know I was at this point, and things don’t get any better from there.
Sam awakens to find herself reliving the same day until she learns some ambiguous message about her terrible conduct toward an emo classmate, but by the time she does, the movie has gone so far afield from its purported purpose that even its target demographic will probably have ceased to care. This is a film in which what passes for characterization is a line of dialogue wherein one of our principal characters literally defines herself and her friends by the genre-appropriate clichés they embody. It’s a film in which the obligatory, ostensibly dramatic third-act reveal is encapsulated in the line “She’s the one who peed!” So, in my opinion, the audience should probably be forgiven for not being able to emotionally invest in the proceedings.
The film is utterly lacking in any distinctive visual style or aesthetic, the script is insipid and far too predictable, and while I can’t speak for entire demographic swaths of the populace, I suspect the pop score will be grating to the ears of most moviegoers old enough to legally drink. I guess the nicest thing that I can say about this film is that Deutch isn’t completely god-awful, but that’s not much of a compliment.
To be fair, I have seen worse adaptations of YA novels — but not recently, and that bar wasn’t very high to begin with. Maybe they should include a companion piece in the special features on the DVD of Before I Fall — a short documentary entitled Before Scott Falls Asleep, which would detail the roughly fifteen minutes I would have made it into this one without napping had I not been propped up by my requisite (and professionally mandated) pre-show coffees. At least it would be shorter than what the filmmakers came up with, and in all likelihood, more entertaining. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens. Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.