Before I Fall (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Before I Fall (2017)

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Sam is ready for the night of her life.  She wants to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Rob, her best friends give her advice on how to do so, and they all meet to party a bit before Sam takes her leap.  But a fight during the party and accident afterward leave Sam without the experience she wanted, and trapped in a day that has no tomorrow.  Ry Russo-Young directs Before I Fall, with the screenplay written by Maria Maggenti, and stars Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi.

I wanted Before I Fall to nestle in my mind and heart for a bit before writing about it.  Usually I'll start my review barely an hour after I finish a movie but something inside me said I needed to wait on this one.  Now it's about two days later, with a lot happening in that time, and Before I Fall has created a space of warm reflection inside me.  I'm sure there's something I could critique here, but the growing sense of fellow-feeling in Before I Fall snuffs the nags in the corners of my mind before they have a chance to grow.

Before I Fall is a dark movie whose motives aren't immediately clear.  If you take a shallow glance over the cast and setting it seems to be a story of privilege.  Sam (Zoey Deutch) lives in a big house, dates the popular Rob (Kian Lawley), goes to a great school, and jets around in her best friend Lindsay's (Halston Sage) car.  The first thirty minutes or so of Before I Fall encourages a sort of passive viewing, reinforced by the cinematography heavy in shadows and darker shades of vibrant colors.  I saw privilege, but I felt weight, and when Samantha gets into her first accident the full weight of Before I Fall began to work its magic.

Elena Kampouris doesn't have much screen time as Juliet, but infuses each of her appearances with deep pain.

The earliest hint that Before I Fall had depths to work with was on the soundtrack.  Grimes, she of unapologetically mixed genre aggressive pop beauty, has her song "Genesis" featured as Sam begins her day.  Lyrically it may be seen as too on-point with Sam's dilemma as she realizes she's trapped in the same day with Grimes singing, "My heart will never feel - will never see - will never know," and if Before I Fall's sole mode of expression was dour it might have been too much.  But, much like the music of Grimes, Sam is going through the ups and downs of teenage life where she'll try on different personalities as the day repeats itself.

This is beautifully expressed in one morning montage when Sam realizes she can't escape this day (or, more specifically, hasn't figured out how to.)  Director Ry Russo-Young presents Sam going through the motions, sitting down to do her makeup, as different apparitions of Sam taking different paths through the same unending day.  It makes me think of how narrowly defined a midlife crisis is, both about how it's commonly associated with men and occurring during the middle of life.  Truth is - a midlife crisis can occur at any point in our lives, as it's a manifestation of our anxiety over death and helpless feeling that we're unable to change for the better.

Sam goes through changes in a way that feels familiar to my dark nights though Maria Maggenti's screenplay adds nuance specific to teen girls.  Despite the gloomy look of Before I Fall, there's a lot of humor to be found in anchoring an existential crisis so young.  Elody (Medalion Rahimi) hands Sam a condom every morning after Elody flashes her bra at her friends in the car.  It's a moment of comfort between girls who don't have to worry about someone taking advantage of them.  There's humor as Sam's friends nudge her toward losing her virginity, and heartbreak in the corners.  When Sam asks Lindsay what it was like having sex for the first time, the color and smile in Lindsay's face fades as she says she was too drunk to remember. Russo-Young and Maggenti don't bring out this moment for further dramatic reflection, they just let the silence after Lindsay's answer linger to communicate just how rough her first sexual experience was.

It's in this relationship between Sam and Lindsay that Before I Fall hits its deepest notes.  The former is privileged in a way that keeps her morally stagnant, while the latter has had to adopt a persona of callous humor to deal with the pressures of high school.  Neither one of them is a very good person outside their circle, with Elody and Ally (Cynthy Wu) questioning Sam's change of heart toward the abuse they haul onto Juliet (Elena Kampouris.)  They're all dealing with trauma and the way Sam initially goes along with teasing Juliet shows how bullying only creates more bullying.  Sam's moments of brutal honesty, calling Lindsay out on how much trash she talks about their friends, backfires in a way that understands how delicate these relationships are.

Infinity is all around us.

The dark look of Before I Fall has whispers of the grand beauty in accepting mortality as it is.  Whether it's the girls defying the cloudy day to sit outdoors while expressing their love of one another, or in one gorgeous shot of Sam coming to accept infinity as the rain gathers on branches in droplets against darkness that make it look like a little universe, the dark photography isn't used to bring gloom but focus on moments of revelation.  It goes back to why Grimes is a perfect fit for the soundtrack to this story, and why Adam Taylor earns kudos for his work.  Grimes is no stranger to melancholy and turbulence in figuring out what you're here for, and Sam becomes a comrade in spirit as she grows a little more each day.

Watching Before I Fall reminded me of the time in high school a girl in my geometry class had an existential revelation while we learned formulas.  She sat there saying, "We're all gonna die some day," and later on I was with my then-girlfriend listening as she made fun of that revelation.  A few months later, I'd be holding her while she cried herself to sleep asking me why a little boy had to die in a car accident.  Kids and teenagers are no less susceptible to a "mid-life crisis" as the dude who opts to buy a sports car and get a tan.  Before I Fall is a record of maturity, watching one girl find the energy inside herself to change the world for the better, and I watch humbled at her bravery in facing the consequences.

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Before I Fall (2017)

Directed by Ry Russo-Young.
Screenplay written by Maria Maggenti.
Starring Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi.

Posted by Andrew

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