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The very title of the 1993 hit film Groundhog Day has become synonymous with déjà vu, the eerie sense of having already experienced a situation. So, the new film Before I Fall, based on the novel by Lauren Oliver, takes a gutsy chance recycling Groundhog Day’s plot—through the perspective of a bratty teen girl, no less. With an absorbing tale and edifying lesson, it largely succeeds.
Samantha (Zoey Deutch) wakes up to the alarm on her iPhone, which reads 6:30 a.m., Friday, February 12. The high-school junior dresses quickly, snipes at her little sister, and huffs at her parents as she blows off breakfast and walks out the door. She rides to school with Lindsay (Halston Sage) and two other girls. At school, it’s Cupid Day, the day kids give a rose to a secret crush. It’s also the day Samantha, or Sam, has marked on her calendar to lose her virginity. Her three friends help her decide what to wear for the big event and give her other sorts of worldly advice. A follower to ringleader Lindsay, Sam joins her three friends at lunch in mocking a heavy lesbian student and taunting a disheveled loner, Juliet (Elena Kampouris).
At an unsupervised house party that evening, Lindsay and Juliet get into a fight. The partygoers douse Juliet with their beers, and she runs off. Tragedies strike several people before dawn, but when Sam wakes up in the morning, her iPhone reads 6:32 a.m., Friday, February 12. Thus begins Sam’s repeated reliving of Cupid Day. She goes through periods of confusion, resignation, and, quite genuinely, experimenting with radically destructive behavior—anything to feel something different. But then she has a change of heart.
“If I was going to live the same day over and over,” Sam says in a voice-over, “it was going to be a worthy day. But not just for me.”
Before I Fall (rated PG-13 for thematic content involving teen drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language) unfolds like a thriller with well-crafted twists and turns. The film makes the case that each day really is, except for minor differences, the same day over and over again. And for many people, whether of their own or of others’ doing, that day is miserable, a sentiment the film reinforces with overcast skies and drizzling rain.
Often uncomfortable to watch yet no meretricious teen drama, Before I Fall traps viewers in an ugly world of rebellion, meanness, and promiscuity—sins to which many teens live in bondage. Although the film doesn’t recognize the Holy Spirit’s singular role in transforming a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, it challenges young adults to wake up, confront their narcissism, and make amends with people they’ve wronged.
As Sam rightly concludes, “What you do today matters today—and maybe into infinity.”