New York-born filmmaker Ry Russo-Young’s first directorial project in 5 years – after her 2012 family drama, Nobody Walks, co-written by Lena Dunham and starring John Krasinski – the teenage mystery drama Before I Fall (2017), asks the viewer: What If Today Was the Only Day of the Rest of Your Life? The rhetorical question for the audience is all too real in the case of high-school student, Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch, DIRTY GRANDPA) who lives a seemingly ideal life as a middle-class, all-American young girl, who can be characterised as a conventional ‘mean girl’.
One day which seemingly appears no different than any other, ultimately marks the end of Sam’s life after she finds herself up in a car crash with friends while leaving an end-of-school house party. Yet contrary to expectations, this event is far from the film’s climactic, dominant twist; in fact, it occurs relatively early in the plot. The film is ambitious in its adoption – at its core – of deeply existential subject matter relating to an age old question: Why am I here? For Sam, however, this question is even more pertinent and pressing than in most cases after she finds herself living in her very own Groundhog day-esque predicament with fatal consequences directly unfolding from her every action.
Sam careens around her school campus with her harangue of fellow mean girl cohorts, a handsome boyfriend Rob – played by Kian Lawley (BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN) and a deep sense of entitlement. Sam, Ally (Cynthy Wu, THE CATCH) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi) mock classmates who even marginally veer left of what they consider ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’, a gang dominated by the leader and most scornful of the group, Lindsay (Halston Sage, PAPER TOWNS). Significantly, Samantha is neither written (by screenwriter Maria Maggenti and original author of the novel on which the film’s based, Lauren Oliver) nor portrayed by Deutch with the flat, one-dimension quality typically attributed to the mean girl, a trap which many teen-oriented, high-school dramas endlessly fall into.
Instead, Sam possess – even at the beginning of the film before she has been pulled into her journey of emotional and existential exploration – a clear amiability, a softness which instantaneously draws the viewer to vie for her success. As she is involuntarily forced to exist in a perpetual time loop, reliving one single day over the course of an unpredictable, life-altering week, it is this disposition of hers which lends an authenticity to her weighty exploration of the way in which she relates to and treats others, a process that is necessary in order to solve the enigma of the strange circumstances surrounding her death. As Sam begins to examine the toxicity of her past actions and the veneer of her life’s supposed perfection begins to crack, she begins to truly see other individuals in her life.
Generally, Russo-Young’s drama follows a predictable plot arch in which a self-involved, incurious somewhat spoiled girl experiences a (literally) life changing event which causes her hit a drastic rock bottom, before ultimately rising from the ashes (pardon the pun) into a redeemed, changed woman. Although viewers can foresee the majority of the plot twists from a mile away and the drama would most probably struggle to fully retain the attention of audience demographics other than neophyte of teenage girls, the film’s message is ultimately harmless and even positive its promotion of the necessity of kindness and true empathy in regard to those in one’s life – especially the marginalised and ignored.