Before You Watch Before I Fall…
Before I Fall is adapted from the bestselling book by Lauren Oliver and follows one high school senior forced to relive the same day over and over again until she can figure out the key action to reset her life. Although not widely promoted, Before I Fall is a pleasant surprise at the theater.
I never heard of Before I Fall before waking up Saturday morning and deciding to impulsively watch a $5 matinee. Our heroine, Sam, played by Zoey Deutch, is a typical teenager and lives a seemingly perfect, popular life. Zoey’s performance is poignant; watching her engage in raw (and sometimes unflattering) self-reflection spurred me to reconsider the impact of my daily actions on others. Also, as a teacher, I could see some of my students in these high school characters and I think teenagers, especially teenage girls, could benefit from watching the film.
Obviously a movie where a person relives the same day repetitively is going to become monotonous. I wish we had seen one less “waking-up-to-the-same-alarm” montage and focused more on the nuances between Sam’s actions each day. Also, in order for the contrast and revelations to be earned at the end of the film, the main teenage girl characters are grating in the beginning (see “Gender” section below). The first fifteen minutes I was cringing at the stereotypical teenage girl behavior. I understand the purpose of showing Sam as a cruel airhead to start with, but the responses could be toned down and still reach the same effect.
As mentioned above, Sam and her friends are the epitome of girly when the film opens. They talk about boys, one girl flashes her bra as a joke getting in the morning carpool, and they gossip about the “weird” girls and “loser” boys at their high school. It’s Cupid Day, February 13th, and they all guess how many lucky admirers will send them roses. Most of their “mean girl” behavior seems tame enough, until they arrive at a party later that night and commit a truly heinous act of bullying.
Throughout the movie this stereotype is softened, deconstructed and pointed to as Sam’s main problem. Her friends, who are oblivious to the repetitiveness of February 13th, do not learn from each passing day. One day Sam yells at her friends, calling them out for their destructive ways, which results in Same’s worst day. But then, Sam picks out the brightest spots of her friends and compliments them another day, even though their mindsets have not developed. We see Sam’s evolution into a kinder version of herself, but young women as a whole are not portrayed in a positive light.
Our young men do not fair much better. We’re only exposed to two male characters each day: Sam’s (kind of) boyfriend of a year and Sam’s childhood friend who pines for her. Sam’s boyfriend is a jock who each night gets too drunk at the same party. His behavior ranges from annoying to outright problematic, when he pressures Sam to advance their physical relationship. Sam’s friend relentlessly persists with his romantic advances, sending her a rose and asking her to come to his party. Halfway through the movie, I could tell I was supposed to like Sam’s friend, but his obsessiveness kept me from completely buying into their relationship.
In terms of sexuality, I’d like to address the one LGBTQ+ character, Sam’s relationship
with sexuality and her relationship with her female friends. Our one LGBTQ+ character is painted as “edgy”: short hair, thick eyeliner, and combat boots. While some people do prescribe to punk style, not every lesbian does! Our representation in major movies of lesbian women is overwhelmingly punk or masculine (think: Janice from Mean Girls, pictured right). I wish the movie had taken a chance to stray from the stereotype and have its audience challenge their perception of queer women.
Sam is planning to lose her virginity to her (kind of) boyfriend that evening after the party. When they finally do the deed, he is drunk. At the end of the scene, Sam cries in a lonely bedroom. I’m torn between appreciating a more realistic approach to teenage romance in the time of “hook up” culture, and upset that Sam is essentially punished for trying to explore her sexuality. I unfortunately think it’s the reality for many teenagers.
Finally, Sam and her group of girlfriends have a very close relationship. They are constantly touching, hugging or laying atop one another (see above picture). I am glad that platonic intimacy is promoted as a normal aspect of female friendship. The physicality also helps really sell the four women as best friends. While some may misconstrue underlying sexual tones, I think it was a subtle touch of blocking brilliancy.
Worth a watch! Meaningful scenes and a new twist on the old “groundhog day” plot.