What is really important in life? What if today was your last, how would you act differently? These considerations make for a confronting opening to the new teen drama, Before I Fall. Can this profound prologue be backed up with similar content throughout the film?
These thoughtful questions are shared by Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), who is in her final year of high school and lives the textbook life of those who travel the halls in amongst the cool crowd. Initially, all that her mind needs to centres on are the activities surrounding Valentine’s Day: what party to attend, who is paying attention to her, if tonight will be the pinnacle of her relationship with her boyfriend and will she lose her virginity?
The less than profound lifestyle of this mean girl posse is found in a narcissistic world of smart phones and social media. The two primary focuses of life are on their personal image and keeping others in their place through vicious actions and words. After a day of roses and budding romance, this band of sisters attend the party that’s meant to be a beautiful mixture of youth-filled action and hormones, but things take a nasty turn with a classmate confrontations the trio publicly. In the heat of the moment, the girls leave the party and while driving through the rain they hit something on the road. The 4WD they are riding in overturns and crashes on the side of the road. Then Samantha wakes up on Valentine’s Day, again…
Is she dead, is she dreaming or is she merely reliving Cupid’s Day?
Beyond the philosophical narrative in the opening sequence, this story could be the set up for an ordinary teen drama, like Mean Girls or The Duff. It contains all of the key players expected in this genre: the cool kids, the disturbed artist, the bullied lesbian, the dejected parents, the annoying little sister, and the horny boyfriend.
This first fifteen minutes offer nothing new, but then the car accident changes everything. Reminiscent of Groundhog Day without the humour or Bill Murray, this tells the story of this teenager as she comes to terms with reliving the potential last day of her life over and over again. Unlike the Murray classic and 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen that dealt with life’s big questions in a humorous manner, Before I Fall contains a more dramatic take on life and death topics. Director Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks) takes the concept of the best-selling young adult novel and excentuates the deeper considerations at the heart of the story. The young director develops an intrigue and tension with the opening soliloquy of philosophical considerations and then quickly moves to Samantha’s rerun existence. She manages to touch on relational, philosophical and spiritual themes from the perspective of a teenager.
Which means that the answers to life’s bigger questions may not have exceptional depth, but they do lead to the the steady maturity of the lead character.
Zoey Deutch (Why Him?) manages to embody the teen mindset of this unbelievable scenario. Her performance conveys marked changes in Samantha’s personality and attitude with each new day. Even though some of the changes are cliched and predictable, Deutch proves her ability of carrying a film in her first substantial lead role. The rest of the cast seem to be intentionally painted as one dimensional, even though thier stories are granted new layers with each passing day. Russo-Young keeps the focus on the protagonist and her development, which unfortunately lead to some anaemic plot points and unnecessary distractions. She never truly spirals into the despair that would be expected, just one rebellious day and then onto a weak conclusion.
It can be said that this is not the run-of-the-mill teen drama, but the answers to the questions and the eventual conclusion prove to be less than satisfying. For youth to consider the fragility of life, the value of all relationships and the impact of every word spoken is welcomed and should be addressed. The answers come through a watered down buddhist perspective of karma and merely being good is the big answer to life.
This poorly thought out explanation undermines the potential message of sacrifice and the value of life that could have been delivered. The big concepts that are at the heart of the story demand equally powerful answers, but the set up was left with little closure and a limp-wristed answer to life’s bigger questions.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Reflections on Death with Greg Clarke and Stanly Hauerwas
Professor Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. He has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life.
He is interviewed by Dr Greg Clarke from the Centre for Public Christianity about the connections between religion and violence, the place of Christianity on the topics of death, friendship and community. Which provide deeper and meaningful answers to the considerations of the film.
Check out the video link: Reflections on Death
Other questions and passages to consider:
- What does the Bible say about being good? (Romans 8:28, James 3:13)
- Where can we base our morality? (John 14:26, Acts 5:29, 1 Corinthians 15:33)
WATCH THE TRAILER