I am very obviously not the target audience of Before I Fall, Ry Russo-Young's teen drama that is based on a book by Lauren Oliver. That said, an interesting narrative and strong lead performance by Zoey Deutch hooked me, and I enjoyed the film a lot more than expected. Deutch plays Samantha Kingston, a pretty, popular high-school senior who wakes up on the last day of her life unaware that her actions throughout the day will affect countless others. After her death in a car wreck, Kingston is forced to re-live the preceding day again and again, in a sort of hazy, teenage purgatory. Groundhog Day this is not, and Before I Fall could easily have been overcome with angst and self-important virtues. Instead, it offers decent commentary on the way we relate to one another, and has moments of genuine humor and emotion.
Kingston's day begins like many other teenagers' mornings: She wakes to an alt-rock alarm on her phone, which she immediately checks to begin her day-long flurry of texts and tweets. She grumbles at her parents and little sister over breakfast before hopping in the car with friends Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi). At school, she obliviously misses the kindness and affection of friend Kent (Logan Miller), and plans to lose her virginity to boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley) that night at a party. When outcast Juliet (Elena Kampouris) walks by the lunch table, Kingston laughs uncomfortably as her friends taunt the girl. After school, she goes home to change and pepper her face with make-up. She then hitches a ride to the party, at Kent's house, and walks through the last hours of her life unaware what is coming. On this first last day, she rejects a drunken Rob before witnessing a cruel altercation between Lindsay and Juliet, who leaves the party in tears. The girls drive home in the rain in search of drunk food. They crash, and Kingston awakens in her bed exactly as she had the previous morning.
I am fairly far removed from the teenage mind, but people can be universally cruel to one another. The structure of Before I Fall allows Kingston to live her final hours again and again without explicit direction as to what she is supposed to be doing differently. She soon realizes that each event during the day changes how those around her end up. Interestingly, the film never promises its heroine will live. She seemingly sacrifices herself on day one without even trying. After realizing she cannot avoid the inevitable conclusion to each day, Kingston becomes destructive and angry. When this "fuck it" attitude backfires, she starts being kind. Instead of pushing away her sister, she takes her on a hike. Instead of ignoring her mom, Kingston tells her she loves her. Juliet is a common thread in each day, and Kingston tries different degrees of intervention to stop her public humiliation.
The film's biggest weakness is its tendency to rely on stereotypical characters and situations. That is also kind of the point, as Before I Fall tries to craft a cautionary tale of sorts to everyday teenagers. This is not incredibly deep stuff, but it does a decent job covering topics like bullying, divorce, sex and family melodrama. Deutch, who is only a handful of years into her acting career, is a promising talent. She plays this role with grace and humor, and instantly elevates the material. Russo-Young does a nice job keeping the film from feeling too repetitive as Kingston re-lives the day, and Adam Taylor's soundtrack selections are strong. Before I Fall is a nice surprise, and much better than its teen-drama label promised.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer offers a clear, consistent picture of this digitally sourced production. The film has a purposeful, soft, and dreamy appearance at times, but fine-object detail and texture are good. Black levels run a tad light, and there is some black crush in shadows. The blue-grey colors are nicely saturated, and both contrast and skin tones appear accurate. Other than some minor aliasing, there are few overt problems with the transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix presents well. Dialogue is clear and without distortion and each element is layered appropriately. Ambient effects, like crowd noise and rain, waft through the surrounds, and the minimal action effects do get LFE support. The popular music soundtrack is nicely integrated, and is presented appropriately across the sound field. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. Disappointingly, not a single extra is included.
I usually steer clear of teen dramas, but Before I Fall offers an interesting, slightly more depressing take on Groundhog Day as its heroine re-lives the final hours of her life to discover how her behavior affects others. Zoey Deutch is strong in the lead role, and Before I Fall is better than recent films of the genre. Recommended.