Teenage bullying is a serious issue among contemporary adolescents, but you wouldn’t gather that from Before I Fall, which overdoses on angst-ridden brooding in a strained effort to be taken seriously.
This dramatic hybrid of Groundhog Day and Mean Girls for the social-media age might have good intentions buried beneath the surface, but seems more intent on watered-down pandering and self-help preaching.
A time loop causes Sam (Zoey Deutch) to keep repeating Feb. 12, known as Cupid Day at her suburban high school, where she’s one of the popular crowd with her three best friends. The plans call for the usual mischief at school, followed by a house party filled with drinking and debauchery.
For the cliquish quartet, their playful teasing of an outcast named Juliet (Elena Kampouris) becomes more mean-spirited, of course, and is really just a method of masking their own insecurities and shortcomings.
When Juliet tries to spoil the festivities with some ill-timed revenge and a slew of insults, it leads to a perilous confrontation on a nearby highway. Except that the next morning, Sam wakes up back in her bed, forced to start the same day over apparently until she gets it right.
As directed by Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks), the film’s gimmicky plot mechanics aren’t helped along by the heavy-handed existential narration or by the cutesy female-bonding subplots — although there’s a refreshing authenticity to their interactions with fellow classmates.
The screenplay by Maria Maggenti (Puccini for Beginners), adapted from the young-adult novel by Lauren Oliver, seems moderately tuned into contemporary high school social circles, and appropriately conveys the misguided priorities of its female protagonists who might as well be interchangeable.
However, beneath its stale platitudes about being a nice person and living every day like it’s your last, the film doesn’t offer much meaningful exploration of its moral complexities. And it too often relies on a convenient lack of common sense to drive the narrative.
The underlying message is worthwhile — and should resonate with fans of the source material — yet the result winds up almost as shallow and superficial as its characters. Despite its modern vibe, Before I Fall starts to feel like something we’ve already seen, over and over again.
Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.