'Before I Fall' Review: YA Take on 'Groundhog Day' Heavy on Teen Life Lessons

It would be easy to write off Before I Fall as the Groundhog Day of teen weepies – but something raw keeps breaking through the formula to pull us in. In adapting Lauren Oliver’s YA bestseller, director Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks), working from a script by Maria Maggenti, lets glints of honest feeling break through the brick wall of teen formula. Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!) excels as Sam Kingston, a high-school mean girl who dies in a car accident. Then she gets up the next morning to repeat the same day for infinity or until, well, she learns something. Think she will? Have you ever seen a movie before?

So let’s back up a minute. It’s “Cupid Day” at Sam’s school in the picturesque Pacific Northwest, and she’s decided to use the occasion of the night’s kegger to give up her virginity to her jock boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley). As she and her posse – Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi) – drive to school, they’re all excited about the prospect. Russo-Young lets us see the casual cruelty of the girls at school as they bully the nerdy Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) and revel in their own fragile coolness. At the party, thrown at the parents-free home of Kent McFuller (Logan Miller, excellent), who’s been crushing on Sam since childhood, the shit and the fan collide.I nsults are hurled, and the girls drive off together in Lindsay’s SUV to meet their fate.

The rest of the movie is all about teaching life lessons as repetition slowly lets Sam see who she’s become. She tries everything to change things: being nicer to Juliet, rejecting Rob in favor of Kent, staying home the night of the party. She even flirts with the dark side. But the cycle continues. In the wash of clichés, Deutch keeps us in Sam’s corner by bringing sincerity and hard-edged humor to the role. And Russo-Young embraces girl culture without condescending to it. That’s enough to carry you over the sappy hurdles and lift Before I Fall above the YA herd. It’s a small comfort, but we’ll take it.

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