Starring Zoey Deutch, Before I Fall is based on the book of the same name (by Lauren Oliver) and is a film that truly shows the importance of being all you can be without compromise. Set during a high school day on February 12th, the school has cupid-day and students give out roses to one another anonymously. The loner of the school – Juliet – and the class’s outspoken lesbian are introduced and have a huge importance later in the film and there’s the almost expected party at someone’s house when their parents are out of town. Dying in a car crash on the way home from the party, the main character Sam (Zoey Deutch), then relives that day over and over, learning the power and consequences of her actions and those around her. She lives each incarnation of that day differently and in that time she learns more about who she is than she has at any other point in her life, and learns the power that one day can have. Escaping the time loop only when she lives that day as she believes is the right and only way to live it, she emerges from the story a different person, but not so changed that she is unrecognisable.
Keeping the tone sombre and the colour palate pale, the film has a quiet, subtle nature, even in the height of the powerful scenes. Characters can lash out and shout at one another, a group of teens bully another to the point of complete despair, but the meaning of the story and the realisation of all that Sam has learned is saved for the last replaying of the day.
In her performance Deutch shows maturity in her emotions and draws you in from the start, even though the character isn’t your typical teenage heroine. She isn’t all that likable to begin with – yelling at her much younger sister for touching her gloves, part of the crowd that bullies Juliet – but she plays Sam with a delicate, well hidden vulnerability.
That’s not to say that she’s the worst character in her group of close friends. The leader of the group, Lindsay (Halston Sage) is the worst for bullying Juliet (Elena Kampouris) and is the perfect blend of wonderful to her friends, but awful to her target. It’s a real, uncompromising performance that reminds me of people I knew at school and she draws you in as much Zoey Deutch’s does.
Deutch and Sage aren’t the only well casted actors. Every character from Sam’s boyfriend to her childhood sweetheart and Lindsay and Sam’s other friends, all come off the screen as so real it makes other teenage films pale in comparison.
As much as I love Sage and Deutch in this film, Elena Kampouris has perhaps the best role and is arguably the most important character. Bullies for years, Juliet is isolated from the rest of her school’s student population and is seen as a weirdo and ‘freak’. People are of the opinion that she should be institutionalised, even though, as we learn as the story progresses, she isn’t mentally ill, but has been bullied to the point of trusting no one. Showing the character’s broken vulnerability and mental fragility, Kampouris brings a powerful performance and shows that the character has an inner strength. She stands up to Lindsay, Sam and their friends at a party, though it doesn’t go well for her. She isn’t the weak victim teenage victims are usually portrayed as. There’s a quiet grace to the character’s most vulnerable moments and as she becomes ever more important to the plot and Sam’s journey, you learn more about her and see more of her strength, and this helps Sam to learn about herself.
Stuck in the loop of the final day of her life, Sam learns who she is without the influence of those around her. She stops lying to herself about the romantic aspect of her life and learns who she is and all she can be, a life lesson that is so important to us all. There are a few typical teenage tropes that make their way into the film – the bully is blonde, the victim is frumpy and knows nothing about fashion, Sam’s boyfriend drinks too much and she has always liked her childhood sweetheart more but was lying to herself about it – but they aren’t so overbearing that it feels like a massive cliché or are distracting. It’s a beautiful story. A masterpiece in pacing and cinematography and character, Before I Fall is a must see film for all that that gets you in the heart and leaves you thinking.