What would you do if today was your last

What would you do if today was your last

Review: Before I Fall

(M) Zoey Deutch, Liam Miller, Jennifer Beals

What is really important in life? What if today was your last, how would you act differently? These considerations make for a confronting opening to the new teen drama, Before I Fall.

Can this profound prologue be backed up with similar content throughout the film?

These thoughtful questions are shared by Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch)who is in her final year of high school and lives the textbook life of those who travel the halls with the cool crowd. Initially, all that her mind centres on are the activities surrounding Valentine’s Day: what party to attend; who is paying attention to her; will tonight be the pinnacle of her relationship with her boyfriend, and will she lose her virginity? The less than profound lifestyle of Samantha’s posse of ‘mean girls’ is found in a narcissistic world of smart phones and social media. The two primary focuses of life are on their personal image and keeping others in their place through vicious actions and words.

After a day of roses and budding romance, this band of sisters attend the party that’s meant to be a beautiful mixture of youth-filled action and hormones. Things take a nasty turn, though, when a classmate confronts Samantha and her friends. In the heat of the moment, the girls leave the party and while driving through the rain they hit something on the road.The 4WD they are riding in overturns and crashes on the side of the road. Then Samantha wakes up on Valentine’s Day, again…

Beyond the philosophical narrative in the opening sequence, the story of Before I Fall could be the set up for an ordinary teen drama, like Mean Girls or The Duff. It contains all of the key players expected in this genre: the cool kids, the disturbed artist, the bullied lesbian, the dejected parents, the annoying little sister, and the horny boyfriend. The first fifteen minutes offer nothing new, but then the car accident changes everything. Reminiscent of Groundhog Day without the humour or Bill Murray, Before I Fall goes on to tell the story of a teenager as she comes to terms with reliving the potential last day of her life over and over again.

Unlike the Murray classic or 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen, that dealt with life’s big questions in a humorous manner, Before I Fall contains a more dramatic take on life and death topics. Director Ry Russo-Young takes the concept within the best-selling young adult novel and accentuates the deeper considerations at the heart of the story. The young director develops an intrigue and tension with the opening soliloquy of philosophical considerations and then quickly moves to Samantha’s re-run existence. She manages to touch on relational, philosophical and spiritual themes from the perspective of a teenager. While this almost has to mean that the answers to life’s bigger questions won’t have exceptional depth, asking the questions does lead to the the steady maturity of the lead character.

Zoey Deutch (Why Him?) embodies the teen mindset within an unbelievable scenario. Her performance conveys marked changes in Samantha’s personality and attitude with each new day. Even though some of the changes are cliched and predictable, Deutch proves her ability to carry a film in her first substantial lead role. The rest of the cast seem to be intentionally painted as one dimensional, even though their stories are granted new layers with each passing day. Russo-Young keeps the focus on the protagonist and her development, which unfortunately lead to some anaemic plot points and unnecessary distractions. She never truly spirals into the despair that would be expected – just one rebellious day and then onto a weak conclusion.

Before I Fall is not the run-of-the-mill teen drama, but the answers and eventual conclusion it presents are less than satisfying. For youth to consider the fragility of life, the value of all relationships and the impact of every word spoken is welcomed and should be addressed. But answers provided come through a watered-down buddhist perspective of karma and that merely being good is the big answer to life. This poorly thought-out explanation undermines the potential message of sacrifice and the value of life that could have been delivered. The big concepts that are at the heart of the story demand equally powerful answers, but the set-up was left with little closure.

Other questions and passages to consider:

  1. What does the Bible say about being good? (Romans 8:28, James 3:13)
  2. Where can we base our morality? (John 14:26, Acts 5:29, 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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