During slow moments in films, I often amuse myself by imagining the pitch. The one for “Before I Fall,” was a piece of cake. I’m sure it doesn’t take psychic powers to arrive at the same one I did.
“It’s ‘Mean Girls’ meets ‘Groundhog Day’! Only on Valentine’s Day. Which we call Cupid’s Day for some unexplained reason, but perhaps it’s in the novel this is based on by Lauren Oliver.”
“So we get to see Regina George get hit by a bus over and over. I could go for that.”
“No, actually, it’s the main character who dies repeatedly.”
“It’s a metaphor! And as long as everyone in the cast is adorable, it won’t be too downbeat.”
It’s true that “Before I Fall,” is often downbeat mainly because the main character (Zoey Deutch) suffers from both obliviousness to her shortcomings and has never seen a Hollywood teen movie before. We grasp this right away because at the beginning, she and her clique (Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu and Medalion Rahimi) blithely violate two cardinal rules of such films. They:
a) Viciously mock their outcast classmate (Elena Kampounis) when she crashes a party to tell them what she really thinks of them.
b) Pile into a car afterward and pay virtually no attention to the deserted rural road.
Sure enough, this combination is sufficient to trap Zoey in a time loop, in which she awakens every morning to the same song on her phone and must deal with her annoying little sister before meeting Halston and her friends for a ride to school. Although Zoey was unpopular in elementary school (though why being a horse lover would cause this is beyond me), she has since upgraded her self-image and is secure in her place in the high school pecking order (firmly ensconced at the top). Alas, her best friend, Halston, has a link to the class outcast which she has never revealed to Zoey. However, when the truth comes out at a party given by her former childhood friend (Logan Miller) who she now shuns, Zoey is horrified and upset. Although originally she looks forward to the day with the anticipation of losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Zoey comes to realize that she is destined to alter history in more important ways.
After Zoey learns that Halston and Martha Dumptruck, (I mean Elena) used to be close in elementary school, she feels remorse and attempts to break out of the loop by being a better person, even telling her mom that she’s beautiful. However, she keeps waking up in the same bed. So Zoey goes the “I don’t give a damn,” route, as well as tries to avoid the scenario that leads to the tragedy, but neither quite works. Finally, she grasps that the key is to your own self be true (or as it’s bluntly spelled out “Become who you are.”), and she manages to save Elena from committing suicide. She also finally gets that it’s the guy with the floppy hair and dorky sweater (Logan) who is your intended boyfriend, even if it’s only for an evening. Zoey, who played a believable college freshman in “Everybody Wants Some!!”, does a good job here passing for a high school senior. “Before I Fall,” is liberally stitched with squares from other well-known movies, but it’s a decent teen movie that will no doubt inspire its own imitations.