‘Before I Fall’
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage
3 (out of 5) Globes
Far as “Groundhog Day” knockoffs go, “Before I Fall” has nothing on “Edge of Tomorrow.” That’s not true: Another terrific Zoey Deutch performance is at least as novel as marauding alien squiddies and Tom Cruise gruesomely dying ad nauseum. But “Tomorrow” was crazy enough that you could, from time to time, forget it stole its hook from a classic. “Before I Fall” is a po-faced YA adaptation, meaning you may be constantly reminded that the same premise was once played for laughs. Now it’s serious and earnest — a “Chicken Soup for the Brooding Teenage Soul” tract that would never think, for example, to have its hero do anything like killing herself by driving off a cliff with a stolen groundhog.
Still, “Before I Fall” also has nothing on “If I Stay,” the painfully drippy YA movie in which Chloe Grace Moretz also stares mortality in the face. Deutch’s Sam is far more fleshed-out. It’s actually shocking when this effervescent high schooler turns out to be a Mean Girl — part of a rampaging clique who giggle too much, sing along to iTunes and, occasionally, make life hell for outcasts. After a rager on “Cupid’s Day,” all four get into a corker of a car crash. Sam wakes up in bed, intuiting that she’s mysteriously jumped back 24 hours. Now she’s forced to realize the unexamined and catty life looks pretty wretched when it happens on infinite repeat.
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With her open, boundlessly expressive face, Deutch has been a boon to stupid comedies like “Dirty Grandpa” and “Why Him?” She’s the rare straight person who steals the scene from the ad-libbing grotesques. Deutch is too lively a screen presence to do anything but elevate potentially wan material. The same goes for her filmmakers. Both hailing from the indie-verse, director Ry Russo-Young (“You Won’t Miss Me”) and screenwriter Maria Maggenti (“The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love”) deliver the YA goods: banal narration, toxic sincerity, powerfully chaste kisses. But they also know how to work around it. “Before I Fall” has more moods than one, and it never feels like a dirge about young adults who don’t realize the world won’t end because they’re sad.
In fact, “Before I Fall” is about the opposite: Over her stint Sam learns that the world is bigger than she realized, that people are complicated, that the world does not revolve around her. If it never gets particularly clever with its premise — not even during Sam’s token “shrug emoticon” stretch, when she does whatevs — it does have on leg-up on its predecessor. As everyone knows, “Groundhog Day” essentially checks off every box on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five (arguably seven) stages of death. But “Before I Fall” goes one step further. It’s the rare film about accepting death and finding inner peace as life hits its end, starring an actress who’s nothing less than thrillingly alive.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge